Literature and language are vital to my artistic practice and a great source of inspiration: I read to confront things and I find that fiction can pose questions and set up problems in a way that other writing can’t. So, it’s hard to know where to begin in creating my Ideal Syllabus – particularly since I’m not sure whether, in this context, ‘ideal’ should be taken to mean ‘perfect’, ‘abstract’ or ‘unattainable’. These, however, are the texts that have stuck with me over the years.
Adolfo Bioy Casares
La Invención de Morel (The Invention of Morel, 1940)
Having been described as the perfect novel by both Jorge Luis Borges and Octavio Paz, it might not mean much that I also think this is a fantastic book, but there’s an extraordinary simplicity to its meandering narrative. The protagonist, a fugitive on a remote island, realizes that he shares his new home with mysterious people who appear only intermittently. Tensions rise when he falls in love with one of them and increase further when he discovers that they are merely phantasmal projections – the result of a twisted invention by a man called Morel. For a while, the fugitive lives as a shadow among shadows, observing his co-inhabitants stuck between representation and reality, before he eventually commandeers the invention and enters into their realm. With artwork by Borges’s sister, Norah, the book’s illustrations are as outstanding as the novel itself.
Jorge Luis Borges
‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ (1940)
It is hard to choose just one text by Borges, but thinking of The Invention of Morel puts me in mind of his incredible short story, ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ (included in the author’s 1962 collection, Labyrinths). Not only because Bioy Casares figures in it as the person who brings the mysterious country of Uqbar to Borges’s attention, but also because both authors manage to incorporate unreal elements in their writing in a way that seems entirely natural. Their methodology and delivery are so straightforward that they enable a certain type of abstraction which, amazingly, doesn’t read as abstract. It’s something I wish I could configure in my own work.
La Vie mode d’emploi (Life: A User’s Manual, 1978)
I bought this book when I was about 20 years old and had no idea what a treasure it was. Since then, I have been greatly inspired by Perec’s work. I find the idea of constraint alluring: the notion of making something within a set of fixed parameters. Likewise, I have been intrigued by Perec’s trait of compiling lists. This is an effect he draws on particularly in La Vie mode d’emploi, which comprises hundreds of interrelated stories that all unfold within the same fictional Paris apartment block after the death of the central character, Bartlebooth.
Farther Away (2012)
This essay – a work of what might be termed creative non-fiction – was predicated by the tragic death of David Foster Wallace. Franzen, Foster Wallace’s close friend and long-time literary rival, travels to Más Afuera, the tiny island off the coast of Chile where the Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk was shipwrecked – a fate that allegedly inspired Daniel Defoe to write what is commonly regarded as the first English novel, Robinson Crusoe (1719). Composed as a eulogy to Foster Wallace, Franzen’s essay marks an intersection between the emergence of the novel and the loss of a great novelist. It both warms my heart and upsets me greatly every time I read it.
David Foster Wallace
‘Shipping Out: On the (Nearly Lethal) Comforts of a Luxury Cruise’ (1996)
It’s obvious from reading Foster Wallace’s essays, books and non-journalism journalism that few people see the world as incisively as he did – or possess his talent for writing his observations down. I could have chosen any of his books or essays, but I was first introduced to this particular text – included in the 1997 collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again – by my dear friend Lisa Tan, and I read it whenever I need to laugh out loud. It’s Foster Wallace’s account of holidaying on a cruise – partly loving it, partly hating it and being totally mesmerized by both feelings. I recognize so much of myself in his descriptions and it’s selfishly liberating to read someone else’s experience of awkwardly navigating an unfamiliar setting. You’re aware that many people regard going on a cruise as a rite of passage, but you don’t really want to have to endure it yourself, so you can just read Foster Wallace’s account of it instead.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This is the book that I’m currently reading. Centring on questions of migration, mobility, home and race, it relays the story of Ifemulu and Obinze, taking you from Nigeria to America through various political events, including the pivotal moment of 9/11. What’s most striking, however, is how Ngozi Adichie tracks the protagonists’ state of permanent transience. Wherever they are, the characters never seem to be in one place, struggling continuously with signifiers that land them at the interstices of where they are and where they aren’t.
Meriç Algün Ringborg is an artist based in Stockholm, Sweden, and Istanbul, Turkey. Selected solo exhibitions include: ‘Becoming European’ at Moderna Museet, Stockholm, in 2014; ‘Metatext’ at Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada, and ‘The Library of Unborrowed Books’ at Art in General, New York, USA, both 2013; and ‘Line No.2 (Holy Bible)’ at Witte de With, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in 2012.
First published in Issue 170