“H-. I just put your clothes out on the bed and so go upstairs and change while I put your cereal in a bag. I remembered we need to get going fast this morning,” he ordered as he jogged down the flight of stairs, himself still needing a change of clothes before stepping outside.
“Okay daddy,” said H-. She was nearly off the chair before she must’ve felt discipline’s heat and asked, “Please may I be excused?”
“Ha. Of course, H-. Get going.”
Dawdling as only a little girl can, H-‘s footpath revealed that she nearly forgot that her mission was to climb up the stairs and change into the clothes her father had put out. One glimpse of her father’s unmoving face refocused her promptly. The creaky stairs and second floor told him that she made it into the room.
“Oh. My. Goodness,” he heard her deliver with stunning maturity.
Interested in what could possibly be the reason for the disbelief she felt, he listened intently for the coming explanation.
“There’s no tag on my underwear!” she said.
He rounded the front hallway arriving at the bottom of the stairs only to look up and see two four-year-old arms holding out a pair of underwear at the top of the stairs. These arms were attached to a face whose eyes and smile sought confirmation that, more than unbelievable, this unprecedented silly situation required adult intervention. With no small amount of labor he climbed towards her, laughing.
“Can’t tell which is the back, eh?” he asked.
“No, I cannot,” she said definitively.
As he gave her a few tips for putting tag-less underwear on correctly, his mind couldn’t help but wander. A solitary sadness always led its journey, the sadness of knowing that her innocence is going to end some day. But this sadness was quickly washed away with the realization that it wasn’t going to end today. Not today. Not yet.
In The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Twain quotes John Hay regarding the imperative to write an autobiography. Hays says,
And he will tell the truth in spite of himself, for his facts and his fictions will work loyally together for the protection of the reader: each fact and each fiction will be a dab of paint, each will fall in its right place, and together they will paint his portrait; not the portrait he thinks they are painting, but his real portrait, the inside of him, the soul of him, his character (223).
Likewise, Bauby’s The Diving Bell and The Butterfly uses, perhaps unknowingly, modernistic techniques to embody his essence. Like Twain before him, though likely for different reasons, Bauby discards the stifling form of realism. Bauby’s condition renders him able to write only through arduous dictation. Bauby foregoes strict chronology, instead opting for the easier, modernistic stream of consciousness form. As Hay predicted, this form captured Bauby. Lacking any appreciable context, we discover a man full of life. More than that, we find simply a man. Absent is the big-shot editor, the fashion mogul, the womanizer, the playboy, the failed husband, and the absentee father. These simplistic generalizations vanish precisely because Bauby writes within the shattering framework that is modernism.
Beginning with the title’s juxtaposition of the movement continuum’s two ends, Bauby transports the reader to the depths—and heights—which he experiences after entering his condition. Necessarily, Bauby begins with how he learned of his condition. When the story reaches terminal velocity, the slightest thread of a chronological timeline acts as a scarcely visible trace of footsteps which keep us certain that we’ve never strayed far enough to become lost. Besides this, Bauby’s style has the effect of placing us on the wing of his butterfly. We climb, we fall, we climb again; flight without consequence. What does a man like Bauby have to lose if the truth he tells is rejected? Through the book Bauby proves what should–but never will–be common knowledge: the uniting power of truth–not just truth, but being comfortable telling your truth. Through his memoir, then, Jean-Dominique Bauby proves like many before him that courageously announcing to the world that you exist has the power to break down the barriers we build for ourselves over a lifetime. The only question remaining is why won’t we let Bauby move us to act on this lesson?
Twain, Mark, Harriet Elinor. Smith, and Benjamin Griffin. Autobiography of Mark Twain. Vol. 1. Berkeley: University of California, 2010. Print.