LE TON BEAU DE MAROT

IN PRAISE OF THE MUSIC OF LANGUAGE

The author of the famous meta-mathematical treatise Gîdel, Escher, Bach investigates the formal qualities of language, translation, and literature in a friendly, sometimes brilliant, but generally pedantic series of meditations. Hofstadter's hymn to language overflows with chatty narration and personal anecdotes, all revolving around a tightly formed nucleus: his efforts ten years ago to translate into English a ``sweet, old, small, elegant'' love poem by the French Renaissance writer Clement Marot. Hofstadter tells how he came to understand translation in terms of various logical models for the transferability of patterns. He illustrates these models with a tremendous hodgepodge of case studies involving literary translations but also hexagonal chess games, off-color jokes, Chopin compositions, and problems that arose in translating Gîdel, Escher, Bach into other languages. Hofstadter draws particularly on insights framed in his own field, artifical intelligence, where the question of translatability raises larger philosophical questions of what it means to be human. Each chapter features a version of Marot's poem or other poems by Hofstadter or one of his friends illustrating points at issue. But despite Hofstadter's multifarious ingenuity, his central insights—e.g., the sublime complexity of language—seem banal. The complexities which Hofstadter explores will for the most part seem familiar, not just to philosophers of language and literary critics, but to thoughtful lay readers. Even the idea of love that Hofstadter offers (which posits that ``each human soul is a distributed entity that is, of course, concentrated most intensely in one particular brain but that is also present in a diluted or partial manner in many other brains''), while sincere, seems densely labored. While Hofstadter deserves praise for trying to rekindle the romance between science and literature, he might have succeeded better had he recalled their long-shared history, instead of feeling called on to engineer a blind date.

Pub Date: April 23, 1997

ISBN: 0-465-08643-8

Page Count: 816

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1997

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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