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

4.24  ·  Rating Details ·  654 Ratings  ·  67 Reviews
The complexity, grace, and subtlety of human intelligence is discovered as 30 scholars translate a French poem by Clement Marot. Each translation is discinct and delightful in its own right, and Hofstadter, an artificial intelligence pioneer, shows that language, like music, has layers of complexity that no computer can ever mimic."
Hardcover, 632 pages
Published May 15th 1997 by Basic Books (first published 1997)
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Dec 17, 2013 Scott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, philosophy
Le ton beau
de Marot —
Quite a read.
You won’t speed
Through this book.
Take a look,
Word lovers.
‘Tween its covers,
Poems, songs,
Thoughts thereon,
Make it full.
ly typeset.
Author gets
How frames blend
As words wend
Through the brain.
Can’t explain
Why it’s great
But to state
Writing’s good.
So I would
(To friends, lend)
Le ton beau
de Marot.
Another one of my all-time favorite books, this is by the author of "Godel, Escher, Bach". Impossible to categorize accurately, it's a kind of extended riff on the difficulties and challenges of translation, carried out with a kind of beguiling enthusiasm. It shares the playfulness that characterized "Godel, Escher, Bach" but I found it more accessible and more interesting.

Starting with a single unifying thread that winds through the entire book (various* translations of a single 28-line poem by
May 12, 2010 Isis rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: translators and lovers of language
Shelves: favorites
(addition 5/12/2010)

I would mark this book six stars, if I could. This was my third (or fourth? Or fifth?) trip through, and I still think it's amazing, brilliant, quirky and fun. Basically, it asks: What should stay constant across translation of a work? Translation is normally thought of as to do with plot, mood, connotations of individual words – but what about rhyming, scansion, lipogrammatic constraints? Is transculturation a thing to avoid, or to work toward? If your various constraints co
Sep 28, 2007 Hillary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: language nerds
Perfect for total compulsives, among whom I number myself when it comes to language. One of my favorite details of this book is when Hofstadter admits that he rewrote pages over and over again so that they would end in a happy place physically--that is, not only no widows or orphans (a huge no-no from my stance), but many pages end with the end of a sentence. It's also witty, light, insightful about translation from many different views of that task, a little bit sad, personal but not stupid, we ...more
James Swenson
Sep 11, 2013 James Swenson rated it really liked it
Some fascinating insights on the difficulty of translation, along with examples showing that apparently untranslatable texts often aren't. "Borges thinks you should try a little harder." (p. 539)

Hofstadter interleaves a variety of surprising sample texts with reflections on his life with his recently deceased wife and with extended attacks on the work of John Searle and Vladimir Nabokov.

Hofstadter says interesting things, many of them several times each. When you have won the Pulitzer Prize for
Aug 11, 2014 Bruce rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Count me among those who regard Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid as a masterpiece. Le Ton beau, however, is Hofstadter gone overboard. Wow, does the man need an editor. This book is so exasperating: occasional drips of insight interspersed with ramblings, ephemera, and juvenile verse, all in the name of exploring as many aspects of language translation problems as may have occurred to the author during an artificially prolonged compositional process.

That last is Hofstadter's armsleng
Jul 26, 2012 greg rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Douglas Hofstadter wrote a full length (and then some!) book related to the topic of poetry translation: Le Ton Beau De Marot: In praise of the music of Language. I am only about half way through this long volume, but over and over run across observations or declarations that I find fascinating. This is a volume that is nearly as massive in its conception as Goedel, Escher Bach, written much later in his life, incorporating more mature and collectively honed ideas about language, formal media, ...more
Mar 09, 2009 Tom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I finally finished this book over the weekend. I've been reading it for years--it's that kind of book. And it was sitting on my bookshelf for quite a while until I picked it up again last year.
I told someone it was one of my favorite books of all time to read. I know that sounds awkward but what I mean is that I like reading Douglas Hofstadter. He's a bit of a rambler but has such an interesting mind that I don't mind being taken hither and yon by him.
This book is essentially about translation a
Nov 20, 2013 Sean rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I loved Godel Escher Bach, and a couple of Hofstadter's other books too, but this one, no. His playfulness with words works wonderfully in the context of explaining mathematical concepts, but in explaining poetry and translation, his playfulness has all the depth of a computer scientist making puns. Which is what this is.

There are smart observations here and there. That's the good part. But this book is huge. It could be cut down by a third and still be redundant. Worse still is what a pompous a
David Reiley
Jun 06, 2012 David Reiley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of my favorite books ever. How do you translate poetry? How do you respect constraints of rhyme and meter? Do you have to let the literal meaning slip? If so, how? What kinds of creativity are involved?

Lots of great examples of constraints producing artistic creativity, including poems (lipograms) where the authors don't let themselves use certain vowels and consonants. A very engaging and satisfying read.
I really can't say anything about this book that hasn't already been said. This is the more organic and human sequel to GEB, much denser and more complex, takes forever to read, and is deeply moving and personal in a way the whimsy of GEB never gets. A book for GEB lovers to read when they get out of college.
Jun 29, 2009 Jessica marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jessica by: manny, i think?
I kind of can't wait to clasp my grubby hands on this book.
Ed Erwin
Nov 06, 2010 Ed Erwin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: linguistics
Covers many very interesting topics, such as language, translation, and machine learning, yet was really hard to get through because it meanders on too long on each one.

Though I skimmed some chapters, I'm glad I pushed all the way through, because it led me to a realization. He had the same realization, so I'll quote: "It was my own love for elegant structure that attracted me to poetry ... and yet ironically, for decades I considered myself to be ... a non-lover of poetry, someone baffled and
(7/10) Translation is a thorny issue, especially for readers and critics who rely on a conventional idea of authorship. When you read a translated text, how much of what you read was in the original, how much is the translator's invention, and how much is some muddy middle ground between the two? Is the translator a kind of author? Is a translation a completely new text? Douglas Hoffstadter delves into these issues with Le Ton Beau De Marot, a paving stone-sized experimentally formatted tome tha ...more
Apr 15, 2013 k rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not quite as good, or at least as universal, as GEB, but still severely under-appreciated. Part of the problem is that Ton Beau goes after a whole different set of problems, literary ones, that I'm sure just didn't interested the AI/philosophy crowd that ate up GEB, while at the same time anyone who comes from a purely literary background is probably put off by sections on Machine Translation (Google Translate can't do poetry - shocker! is probably the standard reaction, though not an entirely f ...more
Seth McGaw
Sep 19, 2008 Seth McGaw rated it liked it
An accidental find while in the linguistics stacks... having read (or attempted to read) "Godel Escher Bach" several years ago, I was too curious to not pick this one up, annoying fonts notwithstanding,...
So, I must say that this one is a much more layman-approach dealing with the subject of translation than I had anticipated from Hofstadter, and I got through it in a surprisingly short amount of time. There is much (a bit too much) in the way of invective against grandstanding linguistic litera
Maria Elmvang
Aug 01, 2007 Maria Elmvang rated it liked it
Recommends it for: lovers of language and people interested in translation.
As you'll know by now, I'm typically a very fast reader. This book, however, took me almost a year to get through. I started in September 2006 and only just finished this morning. It's not that it's a bad book - in fact, it's really interesting! - it's just incredibly heavy to get through so I could only cope with a little bit each day.

I'd highly recommend this book to anybody interested in translations and language in general as Hofstadter has a fascinating way of describing both. I don't quit
Deiwin Sarjas
Aug 28, 2016 Deiwin Sarjas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The prose is playful and so is the verse. Translated or not. Hofstadter definitely has what he reckons a good translator should - a sense of humor. The sense that allows one to take more risks and so arrive at a better translation, whether others (notably Nabakov) would rather call it a paraphrase or not. I was continuously surprised by little wordplay here and little rhyme and rhythm there, often in sentences that could have worked just as well in their dull counterpart forms in any other book. ...more
Philip Kromer
Aug 05, 2014 Philip Kromer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoyed GEB and wants more.
Shelves: highlighted
Le Ton Beau is somewhat rambling, doesn't reach the mind-blowing heights of _Godel, Escher, Bach_ (nothing does), and has enough literature to turn off science geeks and enough science to turn off literary folk. Yet I come back to the ideas within it more frequently than most all of the books I've read. I recommend it to anyone who enjoyed GEB and wants more.

The central device is an obscure but wonderful poem by a 15th century French monk: a simple, elegant, universal, timeless text. The book de
Aug 30, 2011 Donna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Douglas Hofstadter is a great mind, and I loved the premise of the book, about the problem of translation from one tongue to another. However, I was often distracted from his points by what I perceived as his professorial arrogance. He invited several colleagues and friends from the IU community, as I remember, to translate a particular poem, and critiqued each one. There were several that, imho, I felt were superb in keeping closely to both the spirit and the language of the original. But to hi ...more
Nov 06, 2008 Drew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic book on the nature of translation. Although written in a rather quirky fashion and with a great deal of asides, Hofstadter argues well that translation, especially of the literary variety, is a complex and creative art form that requires the translator to examine and weigh not only basic, face-value semantic considerations, but intent and purpose of the author, levels of semantic construction, nuance, word play, tone, voice, vocabulary, rhythm, style, and form among other factors. Ho ...more
Feb 05, 2011 Luke rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: brain
As "Godel Escher Bach" is to computation, "Le Ton beau de Marot" is to language. This is a large book - 600 pages, interleaved with 80 translations of the same short poem each with commentary - and a joy for anyone interested in language, translation, AI, or Hofstadter. For a shorter, more focused read you could try to limit yourself to the story of his life-long obsession with languages (chapters 2, 3, 6, 15), his profession and vocation in cognitive science and artificial intelligence (chapter ...more
Jan 08, 2009 Steven rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of my favorite books and one of the most unique I've ever read. The book is a playful and intelligent look at the vagaries, difficulties, and joys of translating even the simplest literary work from one language to another. Hofstadter takes up Clement Marot's "A une Damoyselle malade"--a french poem of 28 3-syllable lines--and attempts to translate it into English. There are many (over 80, I believe) translations in the book, each displaying different qualities of the original, but n ...more
Martyn Lovell
Douglas Hofstadter is one of my favourite authors, having written the great Godel, Escher Bach. In this book he tackles the topic of translation, from philosophy to practicality and from prose to poetry.

Hofstadter's love of language, words, puzzles, structure and exploration come through loud and clear. As do a large number of biographical elements. The writing is as always infused with his quirky style.

Unfortunately, far too much of this book is poorly edited and over-long. A single French poe
Dec 18, 2008 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book about many different translations of a small poem of Marot's. A book about the joys and difficulties of translation. A book of riffs on the theme of translation (translating jokes, machine translation). A book on the death of the author's wife.

Unfortunately "translation" doesn't seem to provide enough material to stretch to the full length, so I find reading the book as a whole repetitive or even burdensome by the end. I prefer Metamagical Themas and GEB because of their greater variety.
Jan 27, 2011 Scurra rated it it was amazing
As someone else said, if I could give this book six stars, I would.
More "complete" than GEB, perhaps because it is more personal, Hofstadter nevertheless maintains his trademark diversions and sidetrips, without ever losing sight of his goal, which is to try and convey the insanity and joy of translation and to attempt understand why polylinguism is both a curse and a blessing.

And providing the spine of the book are the numerous translations of Ma Mignonne, all of which are terrific and all of w
Apr 25, 2013 Penny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To oversimplify, this is a very large book about translating a very short poem from French into English.

This is about the complexities of translation and the various ways to read something when the original context may not be entirely clear. It is about how interpretation is shaped, and how language and design shapes the way something is written. This book would be impossible to translate: the bias of showing the English-language translations of the French-language poem would not come through. F
Oct 13, 2008 Kelly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
OK, so now I really finished it and while I did enjoy it, it wasn't nearly as interesting and worth obsessing over like Godel, Escher, Bach. I would recommend this to anyone who loves languages (and it's best if you know French or Italian since there's a lot of those two in there) and as a closer look at translation it's wonderful. I especially liked the attention paid to Machine Translation since Hofstadter is in the unique position to talk about it from first hand experience from his research ...more
Jan 12, 2009 Sebastian rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I bought it inspired by Godel Escher Bach, but although it has lots of interesting
elements, I find it quite exhausting. Maybe that's because the playfulness I appreciated in the mathematical domain in GEB in this book, applied to the linguistic and literary domain, turns into pointless speculation. At least for me.
(And the typography is a crime. Note: never, ever let authors design their books!)
Sep 28, 2009 Chris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you like "words", poetry, good writing, even word games, you might well love this book. Hofstader takes a small 28 line child's poem and attempts to translate it into English. He enlists his friends to help. The complexities of translation are exposed and you venture on at the end toward the complexities of the translation of Dante's Inferno. I assumed this was going to be one boring book---instead it fascinated me and I immediately wanted to start writing poetry!
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Douglas Richard Hofstadter is an American academic whose research focuses on consciousness, thinking and creativity. He is best known for his book Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, first published in 1979, for which he was awarded the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction.

Hofstadter is the son of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Robert Hofstadter. Douglas grew up on the campus of St
More about Douglas R. Hofstadter...

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