There is a gap between words and the reality they attempt to describe— otherwise all statements would be true. Speaking, writing, we cross this gap all the time. However, as translators we face a dual challenge: we must make the same crossing twice—entering the world through the portal of a source text, then bringing back what we find there across the threshold of another language.
In our fields, the arts, humanities and social sciences, where there is seldom a clear-cut correspondence between the source text and the world it describes, the truth clings tenaciously to the language that embodies it. Violence must be the translator’s first recourse—a violence that has a single victim: the original text, which has to surrender its exclusive hold upon the truth.
What survives is the argument in all its cogency and integrity. And its truth now animates another being: a new living text. This wresting of the truth from a language and binding it within another is arduous; a translator may turn aside too soon, overlooking imperfections in the body of this vibrant new creature. But the editor’s gaze must not waver.
Now a new individual inhabits the scholarly discourse of the translator’s native language. It walks with assurance, with a spring in its step; but perhaps a button is missing, a shoelace untied...