Pithy, creative quotations that summarize abstract concepts are fun. Though certainly at times nothing more than rhinestone phrases, they often provide a good starting point for thinking about an idea and can provoke thought. Here's a slightly extended “definition” of the idea of a good translator that fits in the latter category:
La traduction, c’est une question de nez. Non de flair mais de nez proprement dit. Plus précisément de sa position par rapport à la feuille. On reconnaît un bon traducteur à sa capacité à lâcher le livre, à s’éloigner de sa table et à respirer un autre air afin de mieux ruminer les phrases qu’il s’apprête à héliporter d’une langue dans une autre.
Translation: Translation is a question of the nose. Not of one’s intuition or perception, but of the actual nose. More precisely, it is a question of the nose and its position in relation to the page. You recognize a good translator by his capacity for letting go of the book, getting away from his desk, and breathing air elsewhere in order to better ponder the sentences that he is about to heliport from one language into another.
That comes from an October 2010 post on Pierre Assouline’s interesting literary blog (if you know some French).
So what makes a good translator? And, while we’re at it, how does my translation of the definition measure up based on the standard contained within the definition?