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Céleste Pilon

on 26 March 2014

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Transcript of Axolotl

by Julio Cortázar
Short summary
Throughout the story, we understand there is a constant shift from the near past to present.

From the first sentence he says “Now, I am an axolotl.” His “identity” changes between these two periods; from human to axolotl (a salamander looking creature in it’s larval state with pink translucent skin and golden eyes).

The nameless narrator first discovers the axolotls at an exhibit at the Jardin des Plantes aquarium. He finds himself so attached to the axolotls that he begins visiting them every day. The man says he feels a connection with them that he has never felt with any other animal because there is something so human about them. Eventually, it was clear that his fascination had become an obsession and towards the ending we understand that this obsession leads him to be unable to distinguish his identity and that of an axolotl. In the axolotl body, he begins to question whether all axolotls are just trapped in their bodies and think like men with the incapability of communication. Finally, the story ends with the man talking about himself in the third person as if he were trapped inside the aquarium as an axolotl.
August 26, 1914 – February 12, 1984
Born in Brussels, Belgium

Argentinian parents
Many nationalities
Lived in Paris since the early 1950s
Translator for the UNESCO
Writing style
Reality is elusive
The miraculous in the midst of the everyday
Conflicting realities
Compulsive imaginings
Study of:
Complex, swirling perceptions
Political commitment
Experiencing someone else’s life
Multiple possibilities
Bestiary (1951)
1st collection of short stories
Hopscotch (1963)
A Manual for Manuel (1973)
Cronopios and Famas (1962)
A Change of Light (1974,1978)
End of the Game and Other Stories (1967)
End of the Game (1956)
Political commitment
short-fiction collection
short-fiction collection
most famous short-fiction collection
Bestiary (1951) , Secret Weapons (1958)
& End of the Game (1956)
darker side of man
reconsideration of reality
The Night Face Up
Julio Cortázar
We believe that the Axolotl represents death and what comes after, Julio Cortázar is then explaining the process of death and how we react/ feel about it, the unknown after we die.
"And then I discovered its eyes, its face.
Inexpressive features
, with no other trait save the eyes, two orifices, like brooches, wholly of transparent gold,
lacking any life
but looking, letting themselves be penetrated by my look, which seemed to travel past the golden level and lose itself in a diaphanous interior mystery. A very slender
black halo
ringed the eye and etched it onto the pink flesh, onto the rosy stone of the head, vaguely triangular, but with curved and irregular sides which gave it a total likeness to
a statuette corroded by time.
The mouth was masked by the triangular plane of the face, its considerable size would be guessed only in profile; in front a delicate crevice barely slit
the lifeless stone.
" p. 356
"There's nothing strange in this, because after the first minute I knew that
we were linked
, that something
infinitely lost and distant kept pulling us together.
"Obscurely I seemed to understand their secret will, to abolish space and time with an indifferent immobility." p.356
"The eyes of the axolotls spoke to me of the presence of a different life, of another way of seeing."p.357
"I began seeing in the axolotls a metamorphosis which did not succeed in revoking a
mysterious humanity
"They were larvas, but larva means disguise and also
"What he didn't notice was that it was they devouring me slowly with their eyes, in a cannabalism of gold."p.357
"I know now that there was nothing strange,
that that had to occur
"Only one thing was strange: to go on thinking as usual, to know. To realize that was, for the first moment, like the horror of a man buried alive awaking his fate."p. 358
"... metamorphosed into him with my human mind intact, buried alive in an axolotl, condemned to move lucidly among unconscious creatures."p.358
"...because what was his obsession is now an axolotl, alien to his human life."p.359
The main magical element of the story is the fact that the narrator becomes an axolotl or believes to become one as well as the fact that he is able to see himself or his body outside the aquarium while he is an axolotl

Inability to acertain who or what is recording the thoughts
Question his normality
- attributes feelings to animals (the sad lions)
- associates/obsess over axolotl
Lack of job, family and friends
Unsure of his identity
Axolotl live in water and on earth, between two worlds (not knowing where you belong)
- axolotl is a larva, also between two states
Between two worlds (2 identities)
Lacking life
Inexpressive features
No communication
If you were to switch place with an animal or object, which one would it be?
-most prominent characteristics that the narrator assigns to the axolotls throughout the story is stillness.

- his initial attraction to the axolotl to their “quietness.”

-The only instances during which the axolotls are associated with movement are when the gills contract and when a foot stirs

-the comparisons of the axolotls to inanimate objects, such as “statuette[s] corroded by time” and “Chinese figurines of milky glass,” reinforce the depiction of the axolotls as motionless, or even lifeless.

-The narrator’s actions – or lack thereof – mirror the lack of actions of the axolotl

-The boundary between humans and axolotls is blurred to a great extent in Axolotl, both physically and metaphysically. He attributes human characteristics to the axolotls. For instance, the axolotl is compared to a Chinese figurine, which is made in human likeliness. It is also illustrated as having “handsome eyes so similar to [those of humans]” and “fingers with minutely human nails.”

-Throughout the story he also talks about the axolotls in the third person and then sometimes talk about them as if he were one of them and says “we”

-The narrator also attributes many human motivations and intentions to the axolotls, for example, they are said to be “secret[ive],” “indifferen[t],” and “judg[mental].”

- narrator also asserts that “they [are] not animals.” However, he paradoxically also insists that “they [are] not human beings.” He concludes that the metamorphosis that has occurred is not one of the axolotls becoming more human, but one of the axolotls “not succeed[ing] in revoking humanity.”

-It even extends to the point where the narrator believes the axolotls are trying to “devour” his humanity, “in a cannibalism of gold.”

-Empathy is what the narrator describes to be the main connection between him and the axolotls. The “hopelessness” of the axolotls, who are resigned to inhabit a “narrow and wretched” tank in the aquarium “indefinitely.” Therefore, he pities them yet feels a certain familiarity in their situation

-The Jardin aquarium is subtly compared to a “guard[ed]”prison, and the narrator is compared to a visitor to the axolotls, who are behind an “iron bar.”

-He stresses the claustrophobic and “cramped” quality of their environment and And we begin to feel as if he associates himself with them because he feels the same.

Main themes

The Night Face Up

Style of the author

Very rich story in terms of style and imagery
Why choosing "Axolotl" by Julio Cortázar?
Magical element
Magic vs. Reality
"Xolotl did, however, aid the dead on their journey to Mictlan, the afterlife in some myths."

He guides the dead to MICTLAN, the Aztec Underworld.


Larval stage of a species of salamander

Neoteny (does not necessarily undergo adult metamorphosis)

Ability to regenerate limbs and more vital organs

Extinct in the wild

Feeds by suction
Golden eyes

Translucent pink little bodies

Tiny fingers


Triangular face
Full transcript