Clerks of the Passage
An LLP Singles essay.
An international literary debut
Cover and interior illustrations by the author.
Migration stories, says Abou Farman, are often told through the personal struggles and travails of the migrant, "the great voyager figure of our most recent centuries, the harbinger of hybridity, the metaphor for risk, sacrifice, toil, abuse, inhumanity. And humanity." These are the stories (both horrific and redemptive) that we hear about in the news, in taxis and airports, in bars and corner coffee shops. They are both real and existential, shared, denied, argued about, internalized. Seldom are the threads of such narratives woven together and imbued with the originality of insight brought to the page by Farman. A meditation on movement, conveyed with humour and a subtle irony. Clerks of the Passage takes us on a journey in the company of some strange and great migrants, from the 3.5 million year-old bipedal hominids of Laetoli, Tanzania, to an Iranian refugee who spent seventeen years in the transit lounge at Charles de Gaulle airport, from Xerxes to Milton to Revelations, from Columbus to Don Quixote to Godot.
Abou Farman is a Canadian artist and anthropologist teaching at the New School for Social Research in NY. Born in Tehran, he left Iran in 1979 and arrived in Canada in 1989. He has published widely in the academic sphere as well as the popular press, with essays nominated for a National Magazine Award in Canada, selected for the Best Canadian Essays and twice awarded the Arc Critics Desk Award. Linda Leith published his first book, Clerks of the Passage, in 2012; a French translation by Marianne Champagne, Les lieux de passage, is published by Linda Leith Éditions in 2016.
As part of the artist duo caraballo-farman, formed with his late partner Leonor Caraballo, Abou has exhibited work internationally in galleries, museums and other venues, including at the Tate Modern, UK; PS1/MOMA, NY, and the Havana Biennial. He is the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including a Canada Council for the Arts Grant, a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. Amongst other film work and credits, he was producer on Iranian filmmaker Amir Naderi’s Vegas: Based on a True Story, which was in competition at the Venice and Tribeca Film Festivals in 2008, and is producer and co-writer of a 2016 narrative feature film, Icaros: A Vision, co-directed by Leonor Caraballo and Matteo Norzi.
“Witty, satirical, informative and profound. Farman is a contemporary voice with a deep understanding of various histories and what connects them.” —Rawi Hage, author of De Niro’s Game
"'You are born once from your mother's womb, and a second time from the belly of a 747.' Abou Farman tells the story of migrants and of migration with the formal audacity of having lived and outlived it--being born again onto it, as it were. These are not migration stories that solicit or even generate your sympathies. No--these stories transform you into a different plane. I have always thought there is no more home from which to be exiled. Now I see why and how that same idea can be drawn in formal outlines. Abou Farman is the closest thing to Juan Goytisolo I have read in recent years--making of migration and exile not an exception but an existential condition --of being, of existence itself, of passage as presence. Uncanny." -- Hamid Dabashi, Columbia University.
"Abou Farman follows the legendary and ubiquitous refugee, Ali—the Ali of a thousand fleeting moments of nervous “third world border paranoia” before reaching Passport Control.... Farman decants exquisitely and intelligently on the larger metaphors that encompass the anthropology of walking away as you evolve as a species. Paradise is the horizon ahead (“right there after the next hill”) where tranquil success is feasible. Paradise on earth is what the migrant seeks." -- Rana Bose, The Rover.
Telling modern tales of transit, Farman ranges far and wide on the migratory map of human history, focusing on such themes as border posts and paradise, surveillance and passports, Third World Border Hysteria and homeland.
For Abou Farman, the narrative begins to take shape in the early 1990s, his first years in Montreal. At 59A Duluth, on the third floor, in 350 hours on reams of old audio tape, he captures the voices of more than thirty ‘Alis’ who made the journey to Canada.
‘We sat around,’ says Farman, ‘sometimes three, sometimes ten Iranian men, from different backgrounds, all worthy of being called Ali, in apartments where the only piece of furniture was an ashtray and a line of empty booze bottles. The passage was liminal, and we, without a firm relationship to any stable state, were still liminal too. So the stories were important in that sense, they were as much about the past as they were about the present – as much about the story as about the telling.’
The roots of this book are thus real and full of characters and heroic stories of the sort one might expect from migration tales, drawing on emigration stories of Iranians that took place in the 80s with the crackdowns of the newly established Islamic Republic, evoking border crossings past and present.
In Abou Farman’s hands the stories turn into a larger meditation on movement, conveyed with humour and a subtle irony. Clerks of the Passage takes us on a journey in the company of some strange and great migrants, from the 3.5 million year-old bipedal hominids of Lae