Le Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language

Le Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language

by Douglas R. Hofstadter
     
 

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Lost in an art—the art of translation. Thus, in an elegant anagram (translation = lost in an art), Pulitzer Prize-winning author and pioneering cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter hints at what led him to pen a deep personal homage to the witty sixteenth-century French poet Clément Marot.”Le ton beau de Marot” literally means ”

Overview


Lost in an art—the art of translation. Thus, in an elegant anagram (translation = lost in an art), Pulitzer Prize-winning author and pioneering cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter hints at what led him to pen a deep personal homage to the witty sixteenth-century French poet Clément Marot.”Le ton beau de Marot” literally means ”The sweet tone of Marot”, but to a French ear it suggests ”Le tombeau de Marot”—that is, ”The tomb of Marot”. That double entendre foreshadows the linguistic exuberance of this book, which was sparked a decade ago when Hofstadter, under the spell of an exquisite French miniature by Marot, got hooked on the challenge of recreating both its sweet message and its tight rhymes in English—jumping through two tough hoops at once.In the next few years, he not only did many of his own translations of Marot’s poem, but also enlisted friends, students, colleagues, family, noted poets, and translators—even three state-of-the-art translation programs!—to try their hand at this subtle challenge.The rich harvest is represented here by 88 wildly diverse variations on Marot’s little theme. Yet this barely scratches the surface of Le Ton beau de Marot, for small groups of these poems alternate with chapters that run all over the map of language and thought.Not merely a set of translations of one poem, Le Ton beau de Marot is an autobiographical essay, a love letter to the French language, a series of musings on life, loss, and death, a sweet bouquet of stirring poetry—but most of all, it celebrates the limitless creativity fired by a passion for the music of words.Dozens of literary themes and creations are woven into the picture, including Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, Dante’s Inferno, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Villon’s Ballades, Nabokov’s essays, Georges Perec’s La Disparition, Vikram Seth’s Golden Gate, Horace’s odes, and more.Rife with stunning form-content interplay, crammed with creative linguistic experiments yet always crystal-clear, this book is meant not only for lovers of literature, but also for people who wish to be brought into contact with current ideas about how creativity works, and who wish to see how today’s computational models of language and thought stack up next to the human mind.Le Ton beau de Marot is a sparkling, personal, and poetic exploration aimed at both the literary and the scientific world, and is sure to provoke great excitement and heated controversy among poets and translators, critics and writers, and those involved in the study of creativity and its elusive wellsprings.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Clment 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 Gdel, 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 inflatedand sometimes hokeyprose: "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 shorthandI know they aren't real goldfish!)". His cheery gee-whizzery often rings false, and there's probably a good reason for the hollow soundin 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. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Using a small but stylistically potent work by 16th-century French poet Clment Marot as a compass, Hofstadter (Gdel, Escher, Bach, LJ 10/1/79) takes us on the sea of issues related to the act and product of translating. The reader encounters questions, such as what is translation? How does the translator cross cultures? Who can judge the validity of the translated product? When is a translation more than repackaging one vocabulary with another? Where does the reader/listener comprehend that there is an original behind the translation? He succeeds in demonstrating his subtitle as a heady metaphor of literal truth: translation is a constant human condition because "words do not have fixed imagery; context is everything." Combining autobiography, scholarly insights on artificial intelligence and a variety of human languages, a contagious sense of play, and incisive writing, Hofstadter's work deserves attention from scholars and alert layreaders. Highly recommended for academic and public library collections.Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley P.L., Cal.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465086450
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
05/28/1998
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
832
Sales rank:
1,175,496
Product dimensions:
7.40(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.60(d)
Lexile:
1420L (what's this?)

Related Subjects

Meet 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 Gödel, Escher, Bach; Metamagical Themas, The Mind’s I, Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies, Le Ton Beau de Marot, and Eugene Onegin.

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