25 October 2021

Babouillec: Voyage au centre d'un cerveau d'autiste (2021)

Kylli Sparre's photo on the cover of Babouillec's Voyage au centre d'un cerveau d'autiste is so apt. Being severely autistic, Babouillec is incapable of speech, and it was twenty years before she revealed her ability to communicate through language. But lacking the power to even type, her mother devised a system of cardboard blocks of letters, and painstakingly Hélène Nicolas, who chooses to call herself Babouilllec as a writer, formed words, sentences, even books. However, the staggering truth is that she is not merely writing to communicate mundanities, not just to give an insight into her world of difference, but she uses a highly advanced, highly educated language which is all her own. Many books change lives, but this small one is wholly unforgettable and surely cannot fail to stun anyone reading it. In fact, the urge must be to immediately re-read this unbelievable, poetic work of art whose originality is jaw-dropping. Babouillec, by writing, is also gaining an identity, although paradoxically – in communicating her universe and to a certain extent joining another – she is also losing as well as gaining identity. Contradictions inevitably abound.

She is all too aware that, coming from a space others can only dimly imagine, she is linking up with the norm, the conventional world in which people aren't so much individuals as creatures manufactured by language, taught by words to toe the line and be at one with the social 'reality'. (Pete Seeger's 'Little Boxes' ran through my head much of the time.) Coming from this other world almost as a branded alien being, she wants to be independent, she sees independence as a kind of necessary but in some respects unfortunate state. She asks why existence has been severed and lined into pigeon holes, cut into slices of life, with temporal and spacial rhythms, absence and death. Having been (and in fact still partly being – who knows by how much?) 'a prisoner, a goldfish in a bowl or an aquarium of human height', Babouillec has fought against her solitude to partly merge with 'the coded complications of being born into normality'.

She has published a number of texts, seen her words performed on stage, written a novel (Rouge de soi (2018)), been filmed by Julie Bertuccelli in the well-received Dernières nouvelles du cosmos (2017), etc. And Anouk Grinberg provides a four-page Preface addressed to Babouillec, calling reading her writing 'an astronaut's experience'.

At the end of her 'story', she pays homage not only to the perhaps obvious Temple Grandin, Donna Williams, Marie Curie, Greta Thunberg, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, 'et cetera...'; but also to musicians Beethoven, Mozart and Glenn Gould; also to artists Michael Angelo, da Vinci and Warhol '... et cetera'; and to film directors Woody Allen, Tim Burton, Hitchcock, Spielberg '...Etc.' Many of these people are without doubt far from autistic, but the gene is there, as Babouillec can detect. And as Temple Grandin remarked in a lecture, without autism there'd be no internet. Genius is well understood, but not autism or Asperger's Syndrome.

This is a remarkable experience.

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