Few people have read or watched the film adaptation of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly without proclaiming it a triumph of human will. Jean-Dominique Bauby authored the original memoir after suffering a major stroke that left him paralyzed from head to toe with minor exception, but with his mental capacities intact. He did so through a novel form of dictation. Slowly and repeatedly a transcriber recited a French language frequency-ordered alphabet, to which Bauby communicated his story through the blinks of his one working eye. When the transcriber reached the letter of the word Bauby wished transcribed, Bauby blinked once. He signaled the end of a word with two eye blinks, and used rapid eye blinks to communicate that the transcriber had guessed a letter or word ending incorrectly. Letter by letter, blink by blink, Bauby conveyed his thoughts to the transcriber. 200,000 blinks later, the story was done. His memoir provides in gripping detail the separability of one’s intention to act and their ability to effectuate their intended actions. That Bauby could convey his thoughts through such extraordinary means is at once remarkable and tragic that anyone should suffer such a fate. Through the use of his one working eye, Bauby overcame, at least in a limited way, constraints on his freedom to act—choosing to act, effectuating action, and identifying with the action achieved.
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