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Le Ton Beau De Marot: In Praise Of The Music Of Language Paperback – May 23, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In the fall of 1537, a child was confined to bed for some time. The French poet Clément Marot wrote her a get-well poem, 28 lines long, each line a scant three syllables. In the mid-1980s, the outrageously gifted Douglas R. Hofstadter--il miglior fabbro of Godel, Escher, Bach--first attempted to translate this "sweet, old, small elegant French poem into English." He was later to challenge friends, relations, and colleagues to do the same. The results were exceptional, and are now contained in Le Ton Beau De Marot, a sunny exploration of scholarly and linguistic play and love's infinity. Less sunny, however, is the tragedy that hangs over Hofstadter's book, the sudden death of his wife, Carol, from a brain tumor. (Her translation is among the book's finest.)

Marot's poem, in Hofstadter's initial translation (he is to compose many more), begins: "My sweet, / I bid you / A good day; / The stay / Is prison. / Health / Recover, / Then open / Your door ... "--a slim frame on which to hang 600 or so pages of text. But the book is far more than a compendium of translators' triumphs (with the occasional misstep). Most of the renderings are original and lively, some lovely, though Hofstadter often feels compelled to improve them. He lightly laments that Bill Cavnar's rendering, "though superb along so many dimensions at once, still seems to lack a bit of that intangible verbal sparkle that I associate with the deepest Maroticity."

Hofstadter's talents lie in linking his intoxication, erudition, and vision with humor, autobiography, and free association. His book takes on "rigidists," asks questions like, "Is plagiarism potentially creative?" and strives to define linguistic soul. Along the way, it accords the same level of respect to the seemingly trivial: sex jokes, Texas jokes, The Seven Year Itch, and the puzzle of how someone you love can hate a food that you adore. Throughout there is pun, ingenuity, and above all, love for language--which can compress distance and, through constraint, lead to freedom. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Clement Marot (1496-1544) may have been a great French poet, but "A une Da-moyselle malade" is not his best effort. Essentially it's a get-well greeting: sorry that you're sick, but try to eat something and get some fresh air. The ditty serves as a springboard for Hofstadter's thoughts about language, translation, culture and human genius as the author, his friends, translators, scholars and even computer programs contribute to numbing permutations of this one weak lyric. Hofstadter, a professor of artificial intelligence at Indiana University, had bestsellers with the 1980 Pulitzer Prize-winning Godel, Escher, Bach and a collection of essays reprinted from Scientific American, called Metamagical Themas. Here he is on shakier ground. Hofstadter is not a poet but doesn't hesitate to lay out his opinions: for example, all rhyming translations of "Eugene Onegin" are "excellent" and "fine," but he trashes Vladimir Nabokov's monumental and helpful literal version; he also calls Lolita "pedophilic pornography." And while there are moments of wit, intelligence and uncommon curiosity, there is also a diffuse structure and inflated?and sometimes hokey?prose: "In SimTown, many other things can happen including houses being set on fire and goldfish flopping out of their bowls. (I'm leaving off the quotes merely as a shorthand?I know they aren't real goldfish!)". His cheery gee-whizzery often rings false, and there's probably a good reason for the hollow sound?in 1993, his wife died of a rare disease, which probably also explains his choice of the verse. This book pays tribute to her, while illustrating the powers and limitations of speech. $60,000 ad/promo.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 832 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (May 23, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465086454
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465086450
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 7.4 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #161,111 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Massimiliano Celaschi on March 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
I read the half of it the half it deserves (to borrow a Tolkien's expression), but I have no doubt about its uncommon qualities. The synthesis of cognitive science items, literature studies and personal experiences , together with an incredibly polished and refined language, into which English, French, Italian and others converge, makes this book a unique accomplished experiment. But I think it requires an unusual attention, and, unfortunately, I cannot afford to spend a very long time about translation difficulties, so distant from my daily activities. And even if Marot is neither Bach nor Escher (let alone Godel), and his poetry has none of their art, the strict entanglement between form and meaning Hofstadter successfully gives evidence to, raises interest also to the otherwise insignificant poem used as book's leitmotiv. Maybe, being Italian my mother tongue, my appreciation of the chapters about Dante' Comedy's translation could lead me to overestimation. The subject lacks of an appeal as wide as Godel, Escher, Bach, but the balance between a so personal style (the haunting memories diffused into the book) and a high level abstraction (the search for meaning), makes me feel the harmony of "the music of language".
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 29, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Allright, it's obvious from the first page that this isn't GEB, and I don't think he intended it to be. But I thought there was an unusual degree of commonality with that book (One of my favorites). If anything, GEB, Metamagical Themas, Fluid Concepts, etc. were emotionless and expansive. GEB was A lifetime's worth of work for any 17 people and ranks up there with the Feynman Red Books as the single most necessary refinement of a problem to date, while the others were important in their own ways as well. I felt from the beginning that this was a more personal offering, and adjusted the way I read for that added degree of intimacy. If GEB is the exhaustive laying bare of all signalling and intellectual exchange, TBDM is it's analogue emotionally. For that reason, alone, I don't share some of my friends' disdain for his creative miswordings and misworkings of other author's solutions to their unique problems (Searle being the biggest cuckold in this exchange, I think). DH has always argued issues to absurdity and, while it's riveting in the intellectual forum, it's amusing and still viable in the emotional. I confess that as a father and husband, I was moved more by this book than I thought. I found myself reading the last chapter over and over again.
I have to say, however, that some of the finest moments in the book, for me, concern the various translation problems involved in Stanislaw Lem's work. Whenever DH sets his sights on Lem, it's like the particular Genius of each is magnified. (sort of like Milan Kundera discussing Kafka or Salman Rushdie in "Testaments Betrayed") I would buy a full book on Hoffstadter's insights into Lem in a second.

The only reason I didn't rate the book, higher, however has got todo with the mildly self-satisfied tone throughout the begining.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Paul Rippey on March 25, 2011
Format: Paperback
Hofstadter doesn't stay in the bleachers commenting on things - he gets out on the field and plays. When he writes about the challenges of writing without the letter "E", he of course writes that part of the book without the letter "E". Parts of the preface are in rhyming iambic pentameter, although they are laid out as regular prose paragraphs and you only notice that if you are listening to the words go by.

Similarly, the way to read this book is to accept Hofstadter's challenges. I worked for hours on my own translation of the short poem by Marot that recurs throughout the book, and after thinking I couldn't do it, I finally, exhausted but proud, came up with my own version. Accept the challenges that he gives to you, the reader, as you go through the book! Translate the poem, compare the texts, and so on. I got to the end and felt like I had been on a long and intimate journey with Hofstadter, who is someone I'd love to go on a real journey with! I've read GEB, and most of the other books he's written. This is, for me, his best work, and one of my favorite books EV-ar!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I find this a terrific text to use to make a point about translations in class - a point that also reflects on the meaning of a text or utterance in one's own language as well. Quine - all translation is a lie. Well, at least there is an element of ambiguity that creeps in when we delve into the meaning. But what I do is take many versions of the translation and have students read them aloud noticing that they do not appear to have a clue that the "poem" is the same one. Then I uncover the one French poem that they have all been reading translations of and surprise! The discussion starts. Do we understand ourselves?
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By M. Weaver on December 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I can't possibly give this book enough credit.
Douglas Hofstader has a fantastic brain, and if you'd like a little of his brilliance to rub off on you read this book. Great insights into the nature of language, cultural influences and the troubles with translations.
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4 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Vlady on March 11, 2006
Format: Paperback
Plodded my way through GEB, couldn't find anything novel.

In this book, author gives up AI and decides he is a poet and translator. He should go back to AI. He fooled a few people with GEB.
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