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Le Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language Paperback – 2 May 1998

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Product details

  • Paperback: 832 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (2 May 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465086454
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465086450
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 18.8 x 4.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 204,151 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

About the Author

Douglas R. Hofstadter is College Professor of Cognitive Science and Computer Science at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. His previous books are the Pulitzer Prizewinning Godel, Escher, Bach; Metamagical Themas, The Mind's I, Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies, Le Ton Beau de Marot, and Eugene Onegin.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Precisely one-half a millenium ago - and I mean what I say when I say it's precise - on the twenty-third day of the next-to-last month of the year fourteen hundred fourscore-and-sixteen (a tip of my hat to the Gauls' counting scheme), in the humble French town of Cahors en Quercy, some sixty-odd miles to the north of Toulouse, was born a bright boy christened Clement Marot, the son of an auto-taught poet named Jean and a lady whose life's but a question mark: our focus thus shifts from his folks to their lad. Read the first page
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 5 Dec. 2000
Format: Paperback
Okay, I'm a Hofstadter fan, but this is a really amazing book. Starting from a simple poem, Hofstadter wheels out onto a wild journey through the issues of translation, poetry, language, intelligence, and, ultimately, what it means to be a person. This being Hofstadter, wordplay is in evidence throughout, of course, but unlike his other books, this is deeply personal, because much of it focuses on Hofstadter's recent loss of his wife and the feelings that it inspired. You have never read a book like it, I promise
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By on 9 Jan. 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a superb read from cover to cover. My thanks to Douglas Hofstadter for making my summer holiday a delight as I immersed myself in this enjoyable and stimulating work. He deals with the enormous issues of translation in a way which is amusing, intellectually challenging, thought-provoking, imaginative, refreshing, enlightening and exhaustive. I am not a linguist, but this stuff is just fascinating.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Pipistrel on 11 Mar. 2012
Format: Paperback
This is a fascinating book, a rich store of ideas on poetry and translation. My only problem is that Hofstadter seems too pleased with his own cleverness, becoming at times really annoying; try pages 1 to 4 for example, but fortunately it gets better. He includes far too many of his own translations of the lovely poem by Marot, showing that his own feeling for language is not always sound. In one version, 12b, attempting to contrast 'you' and 'thou', he gets 'ye' and 'you' the wrong way round: 'On ye, child'. Ouch!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 56 reviews
56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
The French for GEB is Le Ton Beau de Marot. 17 May 2000
By "houndzoflove" - Published on
Format: Paperback
Some people say it's not as good as GEB - but it really is. It's just different. Both of these two books - Hofstadter's best, along with Metamagical Themas - are controlled by some single vision, some idea that somehow managed to spark seven hundred or so pages of ideas.
GEB was more complex. The ideas were harder. Le Ton Beau de Marot is, at its core, a book about translation. The book was inspired by the author's attempts to translate a short (28 trisyllabic lines) poem by an obscure French Renaissance poet named Clement Marot. (You'll probably have the poem memorized by the end of the book, at least if you know French - and if you don't, it's conveniently included on a detachable bookmark on the inside back cover.) Hofstadter, after tackling this challenge himself, sent out a letter (reprinted in the book) to many friends challenging them to translate it as well, including a list of some formal constraints on the poem that he wanted to point out and two fairly literal glosses of the poem for the non-francophones in his circle. The book's structure (like all of DRH's other books) is one of alternation - small groups of translations of the poem, which originally were meant to constitute the whole book but now make up a sort of sideshow and can be skipped without detracting from the understanding of the book, alternate with chapters on various issues of translation. The poems don't play the role that you might expect, a role roughly analogous to that of the dialogues in GEB. In GEB, the dialogues were meant to introduce some point that would be developed in the chapter. Here, they're not.
Most of the book consists of discussions of some of the dilemmas of literary translation, with examples drawn from various literary works. Among Hofstadter's favorite examples is Alexander Pushkin's quintessential Russian novel in verse, Eugene Onegin. EO is written in several hundred "Onegin stanzas", essentially modified sonnets, but some translators don't do a great job of keeping this form. Hofstadter didn't know Russian at the time, but he exhibits various translations and shows their merits and flaws, and does a quite good job, at least to my inexperienced eye. (He has since learned Russian, and did his own translation of Eugene Onegin, which is currently for sale.)
Poetic translation, of course, is the soul of this book, and Hofstadter subscribes to the school of translation believing that the medium and the message are equally important. He thus spends a chapter talking about Dante's Divine Comedy. One of the important things about the Divine Comedy is that it is written in a form known as terza rima - three line stanzas, rhyming ABA, BCB, CDC, DED, and so on - which contributes greatly to the interest of the poem. Many translators ignore this, for reasons of "scholarly purity" or something equally pompous - but Hofstadter convinces us that that can't be done.
Again, dealing with the issue of form, I note the large number of constraints that Hofstadter placed on himself in the writing of this book. He claims to have spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about the typesetting and such things; thus, none of the poems within chapters, for example, are broken across page boundaries. (There are literally hundreds of poetic examples - so don't say that this is just a coincidence.) Hofstadter also seems to like lipogrammatic writing (that is, writing without a certain letter, usually the letter "e"), and even translated Searle's Chinese Room anecdote into "Anglo-Saxon" (that is, "e"-less English). This raises an interesting question - why is it that translating from, say, English to French is totally acceptable, while translating from British English to American English (or vice versa) is sacrilege?
In conclusion, an excellent look at the issues involved in translation. Of course, this being Hofstadter, there is some talk about AI and machine translation - but that isn't the core of the book. Much more literary than you might expect - but Hofstadter is polymathic enough that that's not a problem. Don't let the size put you off - it will go quickly. Maybe too quickly - but don't all the best?
164 of 184 people found the following review helpful
In Disparagement of the Monotony of Language 19 May 2003
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Dearest Doug,
Please don't bug
Us with rhyme
One more time.
Reading through
Poems built on
"Ma Mignonne"
Is real tough.
Nuff's enough!
And no line
For Will Quine
When you ask
If the task
To create
A translate
Can be done?
It's no fun,
Also rude,
To conclude
Douglas Hof-
Stadter's off
Of his game.
All the same,
We can see
This is not.
Thanks a lot!
45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
an idiosyncratic book, sometimes clever, but flawed 4 Aug. 2003
By Theodore M. Alper - Published on
Format: Paperback
Hofstadter is a very clever guy, with an ear for wordplay and some interesting things to say about the concept of translation. But he could use an editor and he has a number of blind spots as a thinker and as a literary judge.
Much of what is most intriguing about the book is its strong individuality. H. knows what he wants to say, he knows how he wants to say it, he has intensely precise ideas of how the book should look. For example, it matters painfully to him that the pages come out just so, with just the right number of lines so that every word comes out on the right place on its page. He takes this to extremes -- when he can't get permission to quote from Catcher in the Rye, he is forced to improvise a passage of EXACTLY the same length in order to keep everything perfect.
Incidentally, it's sort of surprising, given his feelings about the importance of all these details of presentation, that he can't understand Nabokov's insistence that translators, by paraphrasing and padding lines, inevitably alter dramatically the effects of the originals. H. would find his own book unacceptably altered if a linebreak was wrong, but he refuses to accept that someone might find something essential lacking when Pushkin's stanzas are rendered into English approximations.
I'll confess to being somewhat biased in favor of Nabokov -- and I can't help but wonder if Hofstadter has ever read Pale Fire.
[in several places, H. plays upon the titles of Nabokov's works, but not in a way that gives any sense that he has read anything other than his essays on translation and his literal translation of Eugene Onegin]
Anyway, back to *this* book -- it's a very personal book in content, too, the details of Hofstadter's life intertwine with the poem, all the translations, and the commentaries. At times, it's quite moving -- the illess of H.'s wife and his sense of loss come through almost everywhere, even when he seems to be discussing something completely unrelated; even the most playful parts of the book seem to have a slighly sad twinge.
On the other hand, many of his reminiscences of his college days, or clever things someone came up with at a dinner party in Italy [something like that, I don't remember all the details any more] don't work for me.
And I really don't like the way H. so often dismisses those he disagrees with in pretty, well, dismissive terms. If H. doesn't understand a psychologist, it's because he's speaking psychobabble or pseudo-intellectual fakery (maybe he is, of course; but I need more than H.'s word to believe it); if a modern poet tries to translate Dante without rhyme, or with only 37 stanzas in a canto instead of 45, H. is stunned and contemptuous. (Incidentally, it often seems to me that some of the mechanical details of a poem matter more to H. than the language and imagery it contains.)
And, of course, he hits poor, dead Nabokov so hard you might think that he wasn't actually one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century as well as someone deeply aware of the issues of literary creativity in multiple languages and the problems of literary translation. To H., it's not enough that N. be wrong, he must be "jealous", full of "bitter bluster", and, finally,
I don't mean all this to be as negative as it sounds -- there *is* a lot to like in this book, and I'm very glad I read it. The series of translations of the Marot poem are charming and varied, though only a few of them sustain anything like the tone of the original (as I dimly sense it) throughout.
31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Hofstadter Lite 27 Jan. 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Autobiographical in scope and introspective in method, the usual pack of Hofstadterisms (Bognard problems; "slippability"; typefaces; creativity arising from constraint; the term "you guys") re-assembled in a low-density format. What should be relatively quick discussions are endlessly expanded into paragraph-after-paragraph dissertations that left me thinking "OK, I get it already." I found myself skimming paragraphs, and then pages, looking for the action.
At times I felt like I was reading "The Making of Godel, Escher, Bach" as the author describes for us how he saved the various translation efforts of his magnum opus from the clutches of incompetent translators. His impatience with those of lesser genius contrasts with the nice-guy persona he's trying hard to project.
The book is mostly about translation, using a simple poem, which was translated in several different ways by the author and his friends and colleagues to illustrate many important and interesting points. After awhile, though, I started to get tired of reading about what is wrong with everyone else's translations, and how no one gets it in quite the same way that Dr. Hofstadter does. In addition, the author's own poems are among the least interesting of the collection, and he repeatedly "corrects" translations of other contributors (even his mom!), producing results that are usually awful.
If you've read his previous work, you're not going to find a lot new here, and you might be disappointed at how flat this seems.
23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Generally I love Hofstadter, but... 28 Jun. 1999
By Robert Carlberg - Published on
Format: Paperback
...I found this book infuriatingly in need of an editor!!! I bought a remaindered copy for $4 at Half-Price Books, but after reading it I realized I didn't get much of a bargain.
Doug starts out by praising himself for being in total control of this book -- typesetting, page design, content, direction... Well, he shouldn't be so smug. The typography is a jumbled mess, the chapter introductions are amateurish, the page breaks are artificial and distracting, the content wanders off the subject into numerous, endless (and pointless) digressions, and most of the 30,000 versions of the poem he translates are laughably bad.
There's a worthwhile message in here somewhere, buried under six tons of authorial effluvia -- something about the art of translation being a balance between form and content. But of the 632 pages here, only about 120 serve this purpose. Hofstadter has apparently become such a powerhouse author that he is allowed to wield total control, but it's a two edged sword and he proves himself no Galahad.
Doug man, you need an editor.
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