Many of us have had professional schooling, undertaken some form of linguistic training or scholarly preparation to become translators. Some of us have become translators by accident, through our love of languages or downright (non-academic) hard work. Whatever the path towards becoming a translator has been, we all have strong views about what translation is or rather should be.
When we sit down to translate all of us have some sort of concept in our heads, some sort of idea. What is interesting is finding the connection between this idea, this form, and the reality of the translation act, the matter. We can use this terminology (in the Platonic sense) and talk about an ideal translation that exists somewhere perhaps beyond our reach and the material translation that is the result of our work.
If this is the case then in each translation situation, for each translation event, there should be an ideal form where there are universals which we can somehow trace and attempt to reach. But are there such universals? Can we, in fact, talk of an ideal translation? Experience shows that ambiguity exists even at the word level, so what possibility is there for postulating the concept of an ideal translation?
The answer, perhaps, lies again with Plato and his allegory of the cave. If the translations that we produce are shadows, poor reflections of some sort of ideal, then, in a sense, the search for a better version is a worthwhile endeavour in itself. Woe betide the translator who is satisfied! We should always be attempting to produce a better text, a more polished translation, a clearer document.
The translation that we produce is a constantly-flickering shadow of nether-text, always moving, always bending. Our aim is to pin it down, flesh it out, make it whole. What could be more rewarding? The knowledge that our final text is simply a twisted shadow is the first step in the search for the ultimate signified which can be found (perhaps) at the end of a long and shadowy chain of signifiers.