Jean-Dominique Bauby’s tersely poetic memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, typed from the blinking of an eye, is harrowing and crystalline clear, moments chronicled by a man on the precipice of death:
I am fading away. Slowly but surely. Like the sailor who watches the home shore gradually disappear, I watch my past recede. My old life spurns within me, but more and more of it is reduced to the ashes of memory. I went to Paris and was unmoved by it. The streets were decked out in summer finery, but for me it was still winter, and what I saw through the ambulance window was just a movie background. Filmmakers call the process a “rear-scene projection,” with the hero’s car speeding along a road that unrolls behind him on a studio wall. Hitchcock films owe much of their poetry to the use of this process in its early, unperfected stages. My own crossing of Paris left me indifferent. Yet nothing was missing – housewives in flowered dresses and youths on roller skates, revving buses, messengers cursing on their scooters. The Place de l’Opera, straight out of a Dufy canvas. The treetops foaming like surf against the glass building fronts, wisps of clouds in the sky. Nothing was missing except me. I was elsewhere.
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