Journal Article

“<i>Ça</i>, c’est moi”: <i>The Diving Bell and the Butterfly</i> as Autobiographical Multitext

Sarah J. Heidt

in Adaptation

Volume 2, issue 2, pages 125-148
Published in print September 2009 | ISSN: 1755-0637
Published online February 2009 | e-ISSN: 1755-0645 | DOI:
“Ça, c’est moi”: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly as Autobiographical Multitext

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This essay analyzes Jean-Dominique Bauby’s 1997 memoir of his experience with Locked-In Syndrome and Julian Schnabel’s 2007 film adaptation of that memoir as elements of a Diving Bell and the Butterfly multitext, a multigeneric and multiauthored life narrative that has developed through several now-synchronous and vitally interdependent incarnations. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly offers a particularly vivid work through which to inaugurate a multitextual approach to film adaptations of memoirs and autobiographies: in their central figure and their creative processes, both memoir and film foreground the interpersonally produced and transformative dynamics of self-representational works. Bauby’s canny sense of himself as a figure of mutability permeates and animates his memoir; that memoir, in turn, has brought documentary filmmaker Jean-Jacques Beineix (whose Bauby documentary I discuss briefly) and director Julian Schnabel into very different kinds of communion with Bauby’s text and experience. Schnabel, in particular, has directed the creation of a film (and an autobiographical hero) that often portrays his own autobiographical desires as evocatively as Bauby's experiences. Film adaptations of first-person life writings have received almost no attention from scholars of adaptation. To begin to address this gap in adaptation studies and to understand more fully an increasingly important element of contemporary autobiographical culture, we need to consider what it means for a film's creators to adapt not a fictional text or an extratextual ‘true story’ but a self-textualizing life narrative—and what it means for an actor to claim ‘ça, c’est moi’ on behalf of the subject he embodies.

Keywords: Jean-Dominique Bauby; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; life writing; Julian Schnabel; Le Scaphandre et le Papillon; filmed memoir

Journal Article.  12323 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Film ; Television ; Literature

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