Impossible feats?

Hard: Reading Finnegan’s Wake.

Harder: Translating Finnegan’s Wake into a Western language that uses a Latin Alphabet.

Hardest: Translating Finnegan’s Wake into Chinese.

From a recent brief in the London Review of Books about Dai Congrong’s effort:

Many people are eager to know when Dai Congrong, the Chinese translator of Finnegans Wake, is going to produce the rest of the book. To date she has only published one third of her version and dropped no hints about when we might see the rest. A while back, quizzed by a reporter, she said: ‘May God give me the courage to finish it’ – which is surely a good call, even if you’re not a believer. Last month a journalist friend put the question again, and Dai simply replied: ‘Don’t ask me. I don’t know any more than you do.’ That, too, seems reasonable, given the size of the task. There’s plenty of Finnegans Wake that I’d be stumped to put into Mandarin. Browsing at random: ‘The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonn-thunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy.’ I’m not sure this is convertible into any language, even an Indo-European one, but Dai’s translation has been a hit in China, as the Western media reported widely at the time of publication.


Nearly as formidable, Ulysses, has been translated into many languages, Japanese being one of the earliest. Here are some of the editions, from an exhibit at the University at Buffalo.

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