- We’ve known for a while that fairy tales are old, but only now have we discovered that they’re in fact really, really, really old—an important distinction. Stories like “Beauty and the Beast” and “Rumpelstiltskin” originated thousands of years ago, researchers suggest, in “prehistoric times, with one tale originating from the bronze age”: “Using techniques normally employed by biologists, they studied common links between 275 Indo-European fairy tales from around the world and found some have roots that are far older than previously known, and ‘long before the emergence of the literary record.’ ”
- “The sound is as important as the surface and the feel. It’s important because our ears define for me the nature of space,” said Derek Sugden, an acoustic engineer who died this week at ninety-one. He headed Arup Acoustics, which designed buildings with sound in mind, thus starting a kind of quiet revolution in architecture, as Gillian Darley writes: “The more recent transformation of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam by Cruz y Ortiz takes its responsibilities to an immense visiting public seriously. Enormous frame-form baffles hang from the Gothic Revival roof of the original atrium, while several interior windows are blanked out with fabric ‘shutters’ to keep resonance at a minimum. Thousands of people come and go (the café is in a separate space beyond) and the experience remains convivial and pleasurable, sound levels no higher than a gentle hum. Yet nothing is made of this achievement in features on the renovated museum in the architectural press: Sugden was right, architects don’t hear.”
- The Soviet artist Vagrich Bakhchanyan hoped to subvert his government by using its own language against it in his art: “He made works on paper in which appropriated texts and images were combined and layered using transfer techniques, some utilizing official notices by Soviet administrators—the terse, usually handwritten flyers that punctuated the everyday life of Soviet citizens with warnings, admonitions, and exhortations. One such announcement scribbled on a page torn out of a logbook reads: ‘Comrade residents! On Monday the 19th there won’t be any cold or hot water. We ask you to close the taps and shut off the heating system in your apartments.’ Over top of this message, Bakhchanyan has layered an image of a peaceful country landscape. In this and other works, the juxtaposition of random texts and images was meant to produce a momentary disorientation, a visual and mental shock caused by two or more layers of signification clashing and negating one another. The artworks reflect the absurdities and humiliations of the Soviet life—the tragic contradictions between the official ideology of socialism and its everyday reality.”
- Last November, Yurina Ko went to the Big Eaters World Championship in Times Square, where passersby were fascinated by a Japanese woman—everyone called her a girl—who could eat and eat and eat: “ ‘But the girl. She can eat.’ ‘I wonder what her stomach looks like’ … It’s the magic of the Little Big Eater Girl. She’s skinny, prepubescent, and childlike in her seeming ignorance about what constitutes an appropriate portion of food. And yet she’s an adult. If you take her on a date, she won’t order just a salad but every item on the menu and beg for dessert after. After enjoying every spoonful of this giant meal, she still looks healthy, small, and fuckable … Someone in the crowd points to the Japanese eater and says, ‘But look, now she’s sick.’ The woman looks like she’s in pain, breathing into a paper bag. What’s really happening is she’s starting to regurgitate into it. People scatter at the sight of this.”
- Today in corporate-media pissing contests: anyone who dreams of landing a gig at Condé Nast has a foolish, outmoded dream, because all the cool kids work at Hearst now. “Working at Condé is passé,” an “insider” told Page Six. (Another compared Condé to Icarus.) “Hearst has the better perks now: visiting chefs in the cafeteria and free workout clothes in the gym. There are also master classes from the likes of Gloria Steinem, Ethan Hawke, and Arianna Huffington.”
What we’re reading this week.
After seeing Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, I’ve been looking through Lewis Carroll’s original text. The British Library has a copy of the 1864 illuminated manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, conveniently online. The illustrations are delicate and charming. They’re much like Carroll’s handwriting, neat and subtle, with no trace of the macabre imagery in Burton’s movie. Alice is worth returning to again and again. —Daisy Atterbury
Four middle-aged strangers, stranded late at night in a railroad station, begin speaking of love. Soon each is telling the story of his one great romance. It sounds like a lost work of Turgenev—and sometimes it reads that way too—but it’s My Kind of Girl, by the mid-century Bengali poet Buddhadeva Bose. First published in 1951, out next month in a new translation by Arunava Sinha. —Lorin Stein.
At the risk of stating the obvious, wasn’t that some piece about Gil Scott Heron? —L. S.
In the week that Newsweek was bought for a dollar, and Wikileaks dominated the news, I read up on the changing media landscape. I read John Koblin’s article in the New York Observer about Scott Dadich, executive editor of digital development at Condé Nast, with great interest. Dadich’s job is to help magazine editors develop their iPad applications. I’m fascinated by this new frontier, professionally and personally. Dadich is incredibly talented. In Koblin’s piece, he’s compared to Jesus, Pelé, Miles Davis, and Frank Lloyd Wright. —Caitlin Roper
Scavenged for all things Heidi Julavits after reading her story, “Multiples of Cohen,” in the latest Harper’s. —Anna Hartford
As a cyclist, I’ve been alarmed to learn from Republican electoral candidates that I am part of a vast biking conspiracy, started by the UN, to use bike lanes to take away people’s freedom. Meanwhile, back in the real world, I’ve started Ursula K LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, a story about a planet where gender roles are obscured, just in time for the California District Court’s decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger. I picked up my copy, a classic early seventies hardcover edition with wonderfully strange modernist artwork, for fifty cents on somebody’s stoop near the office. —Patrick Loughran
What is an editor to do with a galley of the annotated edition of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice? I have yet to find a fun way to feature the book on the Daily (suggestions are welcome). It’s more information than I’ll ever need. When is it the hunting season for partridges? Did you know that Epsom salts derive their name from the fact that they were originally made by boiling down mineral water from Epsom? Or that Frances Burney’s first novel, Evelina (1778), was perhaps the first work to explore the notion of embarrassment? Is possible to overdose on Jane Austen? —Thessaly La Force
Also loved John Bowe’s piece in The New York Times Magazine about music copyright enforcers. Bowe delves into a facet of music copyright that I haven’t considered, and it’s a rough one—he follows a BMI licensing executive as she goes door-to-door to collect licensing fees for music that restaurants are already playing. The article gets at the question of how we feel about paying for music, a subject I never tire of. In June, I donated to Creative Commons after reading this letter from their creative director in response to ASCAP’s fundraising letter decrying what they characterized as efforts to “undermine” their copyrights. —C. R.