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Aridtopia's Loop Writing: A Desert Language

Aridtopia 1 by Naida Osline.jpg
In Partnership with ARID
ARID: A Journal of Desert Art, Design and Ecology is a peer-reviewed bi-annual journal focusing on cross-disciplinary explorations of desert arts, design, culture, and the environment for both scholarly and new audiences.

By Tyler Stallings

Lately, I've been building a world in my mind. It is called Aridtopia.

Aridtopia is a speculative, utopian community in the Mojave Desert. In my fantasies, it was founded when parts of southern California and Nevada, along with all of Arizona and New Mexico seceded from the United States to create a "dry-water" ecosystem: a balance between human beings, water, and the desert. It is one of several new nations created after the U.S. federal government abdicated central control in light of economic, environmental, and educational collapses.

The way of speaking and writing in this new community is explored in this essay. Aridtopians speak and write in a very purposeful manner in order to break from a past language structure. It is akin to new societies creating a new calendar system in order to be clear that the beginning of their society is also Year One within their cosmic scheme.

A mindful Aridtopian writes in a style that is called "loop writing." It involves selecting words and reusing them throughout the text in a manner that will reveal new meaning each time that it is used. In this manner, the power of the word's context is brought to light.

Following, then, is a personal account, using the mindfulness of "loop writing," of watching my significant other set up her photo equipment during a very dark night in Joshua Tree National Park, located in the Mojave Desert. Aridtopians work at night often in order to avoid water loss during the heat of the day. However, most animals, including dangerous ones, like rattlesnakes and scorpions, follow the same timetable. Prowling at night is a shared encounter.

She sets up she sets herself up to set up her tripod that sits it sits on the desert floor where she is set up to sit. The desert floor supports her set up and her sitting with her tripod with her camera with her flash to shoot an ocotillo bush that is an upside down tripod with its tall straight branches protruding from a single point upward its single point set on the desert floor.


This set up does not make sense to her. She triggers her camera on the tripod, directing the flash near the base of the ocotillo. Setting it up to appear as the only plant set up on the desert floor, set up on a planet set up in books as the only planet with life.

Photo: Naida Osline.

This viewpoint of recurrence shares some kinship with ancient Egyptian notions of the sun god, Re. He descends in the west, swallowed by the goddess Nut, fights the snake demon, Apophis, the God of chaos, in the night of the underworld, conquering the snake by cutting off its head. Re is reborn from Nut to rise in the east and begin a new day. Otherwise, without the sun, even in the desert, the Egyptians would have perished because their crops along the Nile River, the world's largest oasis that stretches into the Saharan desert, would not have been possible. Each new day brings new meaning. Each word is full of meanings, encompassing both the underworld and the world of humans.

In this respect, Aridtopians use language not only to communicate with one another but also to generate additional unintended meanings during the process of speaking. Aridtopians often report feeling giddy after a conversation because they feel as if the universe has been revealed to them as sentient in of itself when the structure of meaning is laid bare as they talk about mundane acts, such as how energized they feel after drinking their first cup of steeped Mormon Tea twigs.

In the dark night for a fraction of a second before the flash there is also Mormon Tea, creosote, rocks all set up to live on the desert floor before and after the flash that freezes incremental movements of branches that are fractions in her life. Most with leaves that are needles instead to conserve water that could die in a flash that does not freeze but burns with sunlight.

Aridtopians embody this sense of discovery in the clothing they wear. Like the tribes of the Sahara, Arabian and Asian deserts, they prefer wearing wrapped layers of cloth to protect the body from heat and cold and to reduce evaporation through the skin by creating a zone of more humid air around the body. So, to unwrap the yards of clothing is to reveal slowly the human body underneath, as if a cocoon were opened to reveal a butterfly about to emerge. In this respect, Aridtopians are like the Tuareg of Africa, as opposed to the Australian Bindibu who go naked. Each deals with heat and cold in their own way.

Additionally, the cloth is dyed bright hues, such as indigo blue and orange, though they do not correspond to orders in a social hierarchy, just personal preference. The dye has been made so that it rubs off on skin like carbon paper. Then, a wet finger is drawn through one's own inked body to make words and symbols for the most intimate to see only. The words are erased at the end of each month by cleansing with a mesquite-based astringent. It is a literal embodiment of textual strategies.

Next she points her camera away from the desert floor to the night sky that is above not only the desert and her but the ocean and others too. The night sky is pinpointed with stars that cannot be seen from the floor of a lit city whose electric lights are pinpoints forcing your attention on itself as if there is no reason to look up and pinpoint new destinations for humankind. A city lit at night is a twelve-hour flash that is more powerful than what she has set up tonight with her own flash to isolate and pinpoint plants in the darkness that is not the night sky but is the floor of the desert.

The best approach for an Aridtopian writer is to simply start writing. Then, as phrases stand out to them, they begin to incorporate them into new contexts. In this process, intention becomes clear for the writer only at the end, thus, there is a true sense of revelation about the language they are using, and hopefully, by keeping true to a sense of discovery, the reader will also go through the same process.

Aridtopians use loop writing to reveal the hidden meanings in the daily news from the outlaying states that are part of the remaining United States of America. They take articles from a newspaper, applying a "loop," and then reissue to the Aridtopian community via electronic means through the internet. Aridtopians try to avoid using paper due to its scarcity. Electricity is generated by solar panels and wind turbines. They tend to pull news as it relates to the twenty-two deserts around the world. This in itself is reorientation of socio-political thought.

On June 26, 2012, The New York Times published an article by Karla Zabludovsky, "Learning About Life on Mars, via a Detour to Mexico." The following is a looped rewrite excerpt:

Learning About Life on Mars, via a Detour to Mexico is learning about life in Mexico is learning to learn about life


CUATRO CIÉNEGAS, Mexico -- Studying Mars usually involves tilting one's head up toward the heavens where there is no tilt once there as there is no up and down to study until on Mars but one is on Mars in the Chihuahuan Desert in Mexico, where the vast, scorching plain is so inhospitable that one tilts one's head towards the heavens hoping for rain too while looking for the distant planet that is inhospitable like the land below one's feet in the Mexican desert.

Is there, was there, water on Mars or on Earth in the Mexican desert that is Mars on Earth but is there a Martian desert like an Earth desert?

For a moment fluttering life can be seen in her flash in the night that might be considered stardust. She is set up to disbelieve that it is stardust. She is sure that bats are flying around her scooping into their mouths the fluttering life seen for a brief moment being alive. Life that could see her too could kill her life on the desert floor. A rattlesnake can see her life with its tongue that can taste the heat of her body set up on the desert floor where her dead body would be preserved for centuries by the dryness of the desert floor, perhaps to be discovered by Martians, seeking a desert to match one on Mars.


Her life is still standing on the desert floor. She cannot figure out the correct exposure time. Blackness is still in her viewfinder. Standing exposed on the desert floor she is correct to be alive still. Though she cannot figure out how to live in the correct time it takes to be exposed.

Photo: Naida Osline.


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Top Image: Photo: Naida Osline.

About the Author

Tyler Stallings is the artistic director at Culver Center of the Arts and director of Sweeney Art Gallery at University of California, Riverside. He was chief curator at Laguna Art Museum from 1999 to 2006. His curatorial projects...
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