Sometimes the business of literary translation involves the transference between two languages of a word or a phrase that carries in itself an important cultural memory. It is up to the translator to find in the target language the precise analogue of the original item. The question, however, arises: even assuming that the translator is capable of rendering the specific word or phrase in an absolutely adequate way, will not his/her effort be in vain if the reading public is insufficiently edified and so bound to miss its carefully preserved connotations? This is, of course, possible, yet has the translator not made that effort in view of an ideal rather than the actual public? Is it not the translator’s most important task to create, to gradually cultivate, this ideal public? If not, what is then the purpose of all the exertion? What has the candle on the translator’s writing desk burned for?
A good translation is the most comprehensive possible transference of a given (intellectual and emotional) content from one language into another, naturally, taking into account the cultural differences between the two and the delicate compensatory procedures these differences require.
A poor translation is a transference from one manner of expression into another–for instance, from a metaphorical mode into an abstract one, from a jocular and ironical register into flat seriousness, from an elevated into a prophane or a neutral style, from pretentious into plain language or vice versa, from loquaciousness into terseness or vice versa, and so on.
As it is apparent, the possibilities of creating a poor translation are much more numerous than those of producing a good one.
The mechanism of literary translation is easy to formulate. What gets translated in the first place is not the text, but rather its sense. This translated sense in turn gives rise to a new text. Then the new text is approximated to the original one as closely as possible. And it is only then that the translation can be considered complete–at least as far as can be judged at that point in time. How simple it all seems to be in outline, and yet how laborious the process is!