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.
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.
As one whose initial exposure to Hofstadter was through GEB, I was somewhat skeptical about a book written by him focusing on poetry. Read morePublished on September 7, 2008 by J. Duker
ANYTHING by Douglas Hofstadter is worth reading, and this one is especially nice for poets. Hofstadter looks at the musicality of language. Read morePublished on April 10, 2005 by JAL
As many of the reviews on here have noted (especially the great poem by 'A reader' on here, which was fantastic!), this book is NOT GEB. Read morePublished on January 24, 2004 by "Sammy"
Hofstadter is a very clever guy, with an ear for wordplay and some interesting things to say about the concept of translation. Read morePublished on August 4, 2003 by Theodore M. Alper
Hofstadter addresses the significance of language as a mechanism to convey more substance than the individual words might. Read morePublished on April 23, 2002 by Former Rater
This book was amazing. Outstanding illustrations of lipograms. Much thought must go into skipping a digit. Wow.Published on December 2, 1999