“Axolotl” a remarkable short story by Julio Cortazar

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“I (visited) the aquarium, looked askance at banal fish until, unexpectedly, I came face to face with the Axolotl. I gazed at them for an hour and left, unable to think of anything else…”

This story reminded me of that famous quotation that I’ve heard attributed to Confucius: “I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?”

What’s the longest period of time you’ve ever spent looking at an animal? Even if you’ve been to a zoo, you probably don’t always spend THAT long looking at one particular animal do you? As a birdwatching enthusiast, I’ve spent a lot of time walking through the woods with binoculars, and I’ve often observed individual birds for several minutes, but they have almost never “held still” for me, and rarely were they looking back at me. I guess the closest I’ve come to this story is looking into the eyes of a pet dog or something along those lines. Then, in literature, I can only remember a passage from Samuel Butler’s “The Way of All Flesh” where going to the zoo and watching the elephants is prescribed as a restorative therapy for young Ernest Pontifex. In none of these instances did any kind of transmigration or “communication” take place like it does in this surreal story by Julio Cortazar.

The protagonist of this story – I don’t believe he’s ever named, which is somewhat fitting – becomes obsessed with observing the Axolotls (also known as Mexican Salamanders or Mexican Walking Fish) at the aquarium in a Paris zoo. He is fascinated with them and begins to think quite deeply about their existence. As is often the case, thinking too long about something can lead to “trouble.”

The narrator writes “I think it was the Axolotl’s head, that triangular pink shape with the tiny eyes of gold. That gazed and knew. That claimed. They were no animals.” And later “I imagined them aware, slaves to their bodies, forever condemned to an abyssal silence, to a hopeless meditation.”

He also says “…in some obscure way I understood their secret will, to abolish space and time with their indifferent immobility.”

’This guy is losing it!’ I remember thinking as I read the story. His grip on his own identity loosens and becomes almost indistinguishable from the identity of the creatures he observes. What will happen here? The reader can likely guess… I found the the final lines of the story quite haunting, and I have to admit that when I looked up Axolotls online and saw what they look like, I found that that knowledge added to my appreciation of the story. This story was also one of my thirteen stories that I’m reading for the R.I.P. Challenge.

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(Below Robert Duvall became obsessed in a vaguely similar way by gazing into an exhibit in the classic Twilight Zone episode “Miniature.”)

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Want to learn a little about this remarkable creature? Check out http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/amphibians/axolotl/ but, please, don’t become obsessed with them… 🙂

I found an online translated copy of this story at http://pinpointing.wordpress.com/2007/05/02/axolotl/ but it is a different translation from the one in The Weird compendium. A brief look makes me think it is an inferior translation but maybe it is still worth reading.

(Below: the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, where the aquarium in this story may be found)

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A Hoosier-Flavored R.I.P. Challenge

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I’ve decided to follow the lead of my Deal Me In 2014 comrade, Randall, and participate in the ninth annual R.I.P. (“Readers Imbibing Peril”) Challenge (R.I.P. IX – hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings) this year, in a short story, mini-Deal Me In format. Randall’s initial post for his participation in the challenge may be found here.  I’ve selected thirteen short stories to read before the end of October. At this point, I don’t know if I’ll blog about them individually or in a couple summarized posts. I’ve picked three stories from known or classic authors, but the theme for the remainder of my selections is “authors with an Indiana connection.”

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Here’s my list of stories for the RIP challenge. As with Deal Me In, I’ll read them in random order via the luck of the draw. Naturally, I’ll be using the spades suit to draw my cards.:-)

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A. Feeders and Eaters – Neil Gaiman (“The Weird” anthology)
2. The Summer People – Shirley Jackson (“The Weird” anthology) -read 9/19
3. Axolotl – Julio Cortozar (“The Weird” anthology) – read 9/23
4. Strunke City DeRail – Murphy Edwards (Terror Train anthology )
5. Venus Rising from the Foam – James Owens (Indiana Horror 2011 anthology)
6. Crimes in Southern Indiana – Frank Bill (“Crimes in Southern Indiana” story collection) -read 9/22
7. Because You Watched – Paula Ashe (Indiana Science Fiction/Horror 2012 anthology)
8. The Hunt – Bret Nye – (Midwestern Gothic magazine volume 6)
9. The Rose Garden – James Ward Kirk (Indiana Science Fiction/Horror 2012 anthology)
10. The Hike – Brian Rosenberger (Indiana Science Fiction/Horror 2012 anthology)
J. The Old Crone and the Scarecrow – Allen Griffin (Indiana Science Fiction/Horror 2012 anthology) – read 9/20
Q. The Shadow Man of Moonspine Bridge – Matt Cowan (Indiana Science Fiction/Horror 2012 anthology) -read 9/21
K. The Boy That Created Monsters – Paul DeThroe (Indiana Horror 2011 anthology)

I’ve seen – and even met and talked to few of these writers – at various book events around town in the past year or so, and reading some more of their work should prove interesting.  Are you participating in the R.I.P. Challenge this year??

Deal Me In – Week 37 Wrap Up

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Sorry for not getting this post up yesterday. I’ll blame the National Football League. 🙂 Below are links to new posts this week. If I’ve missed someone, please don’t hesitate to put a link in the comments. If a participant has been inactive for a while, I may not check his/her blog every week to look for activity to link to.

Dale read Graham Greene’s “Dream of a Strange Land” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/09/11/graham-greene-dream-of-a-strange-land/

Randall read George William Curtiss’s “Titbottom’s Spectacles” http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/09/titbottoms-spectacles-by-george-william.html

Katherine read Janet Berliner’s “Indigo Moon” http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/09/13/deal-me-in-week-37-indigo-moon-by-janet-berliner/

I read Mark Helprin’s “Perfection” https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/perfection-by-mark-helprin/. This story was another DMI2014 “twin” as Dale posted about it also this year. If you want to revisit his take on it, it may be found at http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/perfection-by-mark-helprin/

I wanted to mention also that Randall is using the “Deal Me In machinery” to help him participate in the Ninth Annual R.I.P. Challenge. See his post at http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/08/readers-imbibing-peril-rip-ix.html for the details.

That’s it for this week. Until next time, happy reading!