Hard-Rock Existentialism: The Megalith As A Beach-Head Of Being

by Jochen Szangolies

Figure 1: The Utah monolith at its original site in the desert. Image credit: Patrick A. Mackie, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

In November 2020, an odd news item cut through the clouds of pandemic-induced haze with a sharp metal edge: way out in the Utah desert, a strange monolith had been found, a three-sided metal prism (and hence, not quite aptly called a ‘monolith’, with ‘-lith’ coming from Greek líthos, meaning ‘stone’). Subsequent comparisons of satellite imagery of the area revealed that it must have been set up sometime between July and October 2016, having remained unnoticed since—which means that, in an age where few people can do so much as have coffee without immediately informing the whole world via various social media channels, somebody (or -bodies) drove out into the middle of the Utah desert, dragging power tools and sheet metal with them, and assembled the 3m-tall structure, all without apparently telling a single soul. Even the monolith itself bears no identifying marks—no artist’s signature, no fabricator’s stamp, nor any cryptic symbols or a message on how to ‘guide’ humanity after the apocalypse.

Encounters with objects such as the Utah monolith have a slightly uncanny quality. All of a sudden, the natural structure of the landscape is punctuated by clear lines signaling something artificial—something, we expect, that has a purpose, something created towards some end. Something made, as opposed to something grown, or otherwise the product of natural forces. Something that exemplifies a certain design.

The Utah monolith teases all this, but refuses to provide any answers—and thus, it embodies an element of the absurd: a work with no purpose, a means directed towards no discernible end. Some anonymous creator has expended considerable effort for no apparent reason other than to put a metal column in a place where few, if any, would ever see it, and has left us no clue as to their motivation, no means to wrap our heads around the sheer implausibility of the thing’s jutting right out of the bedrock, wedging itself into the world and our minds like a knife between the ribs.

Should we then just chalk this up to the random whim of some eccentric? To a long prank, played at the expense of whoever might eventually chance upon it? Was the creator just driven by the same sense of impishness that makes people strap boards to their feet to trample down crops, creating circles some take for evidence of alien visitation? Read more »