Umberto Eco once stated that to be a good translator one needs to translate and be translated. How true these words are. In fact, Eco goes on to state that the author must also act as an editor and consultant to the translator of his works. Umberto Eco makes it his duty to discuss the problems of translation with each individual translator regardless of whether he knows the target language or not. Eco asks his translators to discuss the problems they are having – which section is difficult, which paragraph seems unintelligible, or which sentence appears to be untranslatable. He is able to illicit answers to their problems by prodding them deeper and deeper about the culture of the target language and making them become aware of the real context of what lay within his mind at the time of writing.
In essence this shows us that the translator must have a dual outlook on the text he or she is translating – from the side of the author and the side of the translator. Or, in fact, from the point of view of the author and point of view of the reader. Moreover, a cultural fluency (or bi-culturalism) is essential. The first idea that comes to mind here is how does one translate into or out of the ancient languages? How does one grapple with a culture that is no more? All that can be done is to read, read, read, research, research, research until one immerses oneself in the source culture in order to then transpose (functionally) equivalent concepts into the (home) culture.
What Umberto Eco shows us is that even authors need to be sensitive to the sensibilities of the translator. And the best consultant for every translator is invariably the author of the original text. Interestingly, these are nigh-on always the most fascinating linguistic, translational and cultural conversations. The author who is ready to discuss a text with his/her translator is often an open person ready to take on new ideas. When culture meets culture, text meets text, author meets translator the boundaries between the two often blur, overlap and merge often producing something new and exciting. It is at moments like this the process of translation is most exhilarating.