Select Page













Not only was I exiled, paralyzed, mute, half deaf, deprived of all pleasures, and reduced to the existence of a jellyfish, but I was also horrible to behold. There comes a time when the heaping up of calamities brings on uncontrollable nervous laughter—when, after a final blow from fate, we decide to treat it all as a joke.

Jean-Dominique Bauby from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


These words and the book from which they are taken were transmitted in code and recorded by a speech therapist in a hospital room in France. The author, Jean-Do Bauby, was a victim of locked-in syndrome, a rare and horrible condition, as a result of a stroke. A lot of fuss is made about the fact that he was the editor-in-chief of the French Elle magazine, but this gets very little play in his memoir. Still, he was a master of language and his editorial choices for the book were extremely potent: he spelled out each word by blinking his left eye, one of the very few muscles he could still use. The speech therapist sat by his bed with a notebook . . . she made her way through the alphabet, waiting for his blinks, to form each word.