The Dockworker and the Exotic Thought

Down at the wharf he told me a tale, that staunch dockworker. One day he had put on his special clothes and posted a letter, having written about his thoughts and dilemmas on the subject of ‘here and there’. He let the letter slip, unaddressed, into the depths of an empty cargo hold and, landing softly, it arrived at the very bottom. Who would find the letter? Where would it be found? As it was written in Dutch, and this ship was heading for distant lands, it would be unreadable—a paper covered with alien marks.

The ship carrying cassava, he said, felt warmer than those with cargos of wheat and corn. Only once had he met its captain and talked with him about life. The encounter had made a lasting impression on him. Though he could sense the captain’s presence on board, he never actually saw him since. Cargos arrived and were unloaded while thoughts slipped, like stowaways, into the dark hold for the journey back. Plenty of room after all. Filling the empty silo, time after time: that was the rhythm of cassava.

It gave rise to a cadence, which prompted the dockworker’s exotic thoughts about ‘there’. The captain told him about Tzvetan Todorov, who had written that “ordinary experience begins with the foreign and ends with the familiar. An exotic experience begins where the other ends—with the familiar—and leads to the foreign.” It wasn’t his body that kept him from jumping aboard (his body would have been happy to) but rather his soul: that invisible and inaudible bit of a person, many times the size of the body itself, which keeps on raising questions. Where was it actually located?

Would he be able to separate his body from his soul, so that he could be both ‘here’ and ‘there’? He wanted to fly with the parrots, bathe in fruit juice, become intoxicated on the fragrance of big flowers, see cassava fields. But he knew the answer. The captain had told him that the two weren’t possible. “You’re either here or there,” he stated resolutely. “You either come aboard or you stay on land.” The words, shattering, tore his soul. Of course the captain was right: only a body, the physical, exists. He had actually read this once, in a book by Octavio Paz. Existing in two places at the same time was impossible.

The dockworker grew silent, sat down, pulled his knees up to his chest, wrapped his arms around them and stared into the distance. I sat down next to him and stared too. “There’s so much movement on earth,” he said suddenly.”…And I can’t even get beyond this wharf.” Time didn’t matter—a construction, he called it. What steered him was his inner awareness. Spirit, conscience, character: the ‘heavy metals’ of longing. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a lot going on in him. Meanwhile, sailing on his tale, I became immersed in exotic thoughts and let myself be carried off to a realm of giant blossoms and abundance.

Karin van Pinxteren, June 24, 2012


a tale to accompany the installation Silo Exotica 2012 | translation: Beth O’Brien