If Ideas Had Shapes

A quoteblog ranging from philosophers in bathrobes to galaxy-rises

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

Babbage had a wide range of interests, including lock-picking, codes and decoding, wordplay, the nature of humor, politics, and many, many aspects of mathematics, science and engineering.

Advertisements

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

The picaresque tale of la Mettrie is well told in Pamela McCorduck’s deliciously titled book Machines Who Think, a poetically written and truly engrossing, though somewhat biased, early history of AI—and while we’re speaking of translating book titles, I offer you the challenge of translating McCorduck’s title into French. There is a serious snag—namely, that the French relative pronoun qui means both “that” and “who”, and therefore the obvious solution, “Machines qui pensent”, falls totally flat, since it back-translates into “Machines That Think”. Can you do better?

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

More often than not, Bach will catch even the most astute of his listeners by surprise. He is like a rabbit who can elude the wiliest and most experienced of foxes in a wild zigzag chase across a field, constantly throwing his pursuers off the track by pulling novel rabbits out of his foxy composer’s hat.

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

There are yet further options that a translator might consider at least fleetingly, such as these (and doubtless many more):

(7) use the English word “science” and insert a scholarly footnote explaining that Lem’s original story was in Polish and that the Polish for “science” is nauka, for which, unfortunately, there is no English rendering that begins with “n”;

Option (7) is—I can find no better phrase for it—a total wimp-out. And yet, in the course of reading this book—especially Chapters 9 and 17—you will meet translators, some famous, who prefer to translate in just that style, and some of whom even try, using pompous scholarly language, to demonstrate the superiority of their wimp-stance. This option is sad.

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

Büstenhalter strikes me as just about as gawky as “blockbuster”. I’m not saying “bra” is a beautiful word, but at least it doesn’t sound like a harsh warning that a Communist border guard might have yelled out to stop some desperate would-be escapee from scaling the Berlin Wall.

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

How far a translator can reasonably drift from a literal text has everything to do with the fabric of human associations—with what lies mentally close to what, and what lies far away.

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

The point is, in any word, many concepts are sous-entendus: there, but whispered.

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

In contrast to my two poems, which both painted an uninhibitedly joyous bursting-out of jail in the midday sun, Bob’s hinted at a hush-hush, clandestine escape, the pair most likely slinking furtively through chilly corridors in the darkest of pre-dawn darkness.

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

…I still liked my own two poems, mind you, but I felt that Bob had brought out subtle dimensions of the original that I had utterly neglected. Never once had it occurred to me to try to capture, or even tip my hat to, the oldness of the Marot poem.

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

Little more needs to be said about the mushrooming of the project, for you have in your hands what resulted.

(shipping weight: 3 pounds)