Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Le Ton beau de Marot by Douglas R Hofstadter

This is a huge and brilliant book about poetry, translation, understanding and artificial intelligence that I can't begin to do justice to in my typical short review!

The main chapters of the book look at ideas around translation, particularly the essential untranslateability of certain words and phrases and with a large section on humour. Hofstadter also examines the history and development of artificial intelligence and mechanical translation programmes.

These main chapters are interwoven with multiple translations, by multiple writers of Ma Mignonne a poem by the old French poet Clement Marot. It could feel that this element of the book is overdone, but I found the comparisons between translations to be fascinating (it was also particularly instructive to see translations here made by mechanical translation programmes!). Many of the translations are really 'versions of' Ma Mignonne, or even 'poems inspired by' Ma Mignonne, which leads into discussions about how faithful a translation needs to be.

The penultimate chapter annoyed me. Hofstadter rants against modern poetry, and although I agreed with much of what he says he seems to entirely forget that rhyme wasn't often found in English language poetry before it was introduced from Italy!

The whole book is thought provoking, entertaining and insightful, recommended reading for anyone interested in poetry or translation. (And despite the title, it is in English (except for a few poems and phrases!).

Le Ton beau de Marot by Douglas Hofstadter published by Bloomsbury

I reviewed this for Brighton Blogger's 2012 Reading Challenge.


nmj said...

Hey Juliet, I did in fact order this with remains of an Amazon voucher I had, it came yesterday, it is quite a tome!

He seems a real control merchant (in the best way), was just reading about how he forced the spacing *between* the words to be a certain way and would write and rewrite to get a specific format.

I think this will be a dipping into book for me, rather than reading all way through! But very glad you recommended as I had not heard of before.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Hi Nasim, i actually totally relate to what he said about changing words to fit a format, maybe partly to do with being a poet and a scientist! Hope you enjoy the book - it probably is a good book to dip into and out of.