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

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  759 ratings  ·  90 reviews
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 e
Paperback, 632 pages
Published May 23rd 1998 by Basic Books (first published 1997)
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Nov 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
In which Hofstadter attempts to bottle lightning a second time. But where Gödel, Escher, Bach excelled in its loose and free-associative style, in its detailed probing of diverse disciplines, which become interrelated in surprising an interesting ways, Le Ton Beau De Marot feels like a deep dive into a comparatively shallow pool. Hofstadter bottoms-out fairly quickly, and spends a lot of time treading water, paddling aimlessly in great circles. The subject matter (or at least the author’s treatm ...more
Jul 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 12, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Jan 09, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 18, 2007 added it
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.
May 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: repeat-authors
This book wasn’t really what I was looking for. I find choosing between prose translations really interesting, and I wanted discussion of the challenges faced there (of which there are plenty)! Instead, this book focused more on poetry translation, and other types of translation that are more challenging than prose. Hofstadter mentioned briefly that even translating prose is no easy challenge, but gave almost no attention to it.

I still enjoyed the book for what it was though, and it has changed
Jul 26, 2012 rated it liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 12, 2009 rated it did not like it
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!)
David Reiley
Jun 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 29, 2009 marked it as to-read
Recommended to Jessica by: manny, i think?
I kind of can't wait to clasp my grubby hands on this book.
Apr 21, 2011 rated it it was ok
Perhaps I am too tired to give it its due.
Thibaut Hochons
Mar 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful and unusual book. Hofstadter is best known for "Gödel, Escher, Bach" - a surprising comparative exploration of the work of the individuals listed in its title, in the service of illuminating the mechanisms of human consciousness and cognition. This book, too, is a kaleidoscope of topics, but - unlike "GEB" - it wasn't written to expose a pre-determined core thesis. Rather, this massive opus (800 pages and counting) seems to have grown by accretion from a seemingly modest seed ...more
Tandava Brahmachari
Jul 10, 2020 marked it as did-not-finish
Shelves: poetics, writing
I’ve made it a good slog of the way through this mighty tome of a book, but at the moment it’s just not engrossing enough to merit the remaining time required to finish it, and I have much more urgent things on my reading list now. I’ll keep a bookmark in it, though, and hopefully come back to finish it sometime.

A review so far:

This could legitimately be called two separate books. If you want to read just the “Poems” sections, exploring all the different translation options, I think that would
Aug 31, 2017 rated it liked it
The book probably does deserve a higher rating than my three stars—in fact, I was torn for the longest time between three and four stars, and if there were an option to give half stars (five levels are not enough), it would have been three and a half stars. The book deals wonderfully with most all aspects of translation of relevance, as I found out when I actually started studying the field somewhere part of the way through reading this book; it has bits of ingenuity and beauty; the layout of it ...more
Gary Lang
May 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is about the arts and sciences of translation – across time, cultures, and languages. Machine translation is discussed which leads to a mid-90s survey of AI. The context here is that AI relies on symbol manipulation so the techniques involved in translating poetry such as the poem that gives the book its title are similar to some techniques for developing machine understanding.

While reading the book, you can’t help wondering if Hofstadter went obsessively 500 pages into this cul-de-sac
Don Heiman
Nov 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Basic Books published Douglas Hofstadter’s book “Le Ton beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language” in 1997. This amazing book explains the subtle art of translating writings across many languages by reflecting the music of poetry, culture, literature, geography, and time. His work is full of humor, analysis, and autobiography. For me, it was best that I read his book in bite size chunks to better savor his observations and style. The French artist Clement Marot’s 1537 poem “Ma Mignonne” ...more
Jocelyn Veevers
Hofstadter is excellent at exploring and explaining the things that are within his domains of expertise (languages, classical music, AI). The thing that turned me off was his screeds later in the book about modern poetry and rock music, which are media which have very interesting formal qualities, regardless of what Hofstadter believes. Overall, a wonderful philosophical exploration of translation.
Kevin Connor
Jun 09, 2019 marked it as abandoned
Lots of interesting ideas, but a little bit too self-indulgent. I want this book to be like ten percent more self assured, or to just have less of the autobiographical elements and focus in on the popular linguistics ideas. I understand that it is a very personal undertaking and story. I would have liked this more fifteen years ago, but I've had enough of aging academic men for one lifetime.
Alexander Weber
Oct 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Oh thank god
Doug, you need a fucking editor.
I did really like some sections, like his treatment of syntax/semantics, the idea of souls being 'translateable', his treatment of Derek Parfit, and his general philosophy on translation.
Sep 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting but a difficult read.
Nov 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Would have made an interesting book half the length. Interesting in places but could have benefited from a forceful editor.
Frank Ashe
An enjoyable mental exercise to read this book. When you finish this you know it's done you good. It went down paths I didn't expect, opening vistas.
David Fandel
Jun 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Daniel Feldman
Jul 28, 2020 rated it it was ok
I tried to read this and didn't get very far. I think you need to have fairly good command of French to really get what he's talking about, and I don't.
Dan R
Aug 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is my favorite book by Hofstadter.
An amazing exploration of translation and meaning.
If you like Hofstadter and haven't read this one yet, do it.
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Douglas Richard Hofstadter is an American scholar of cognitive science, physics, and comparative literature 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 physici

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