LIT 165 Syllabus
LIT 165 Announcements
LIT 165 Assignments
WRT 120 Syllabus
WRT 120 Announcements
WRT 120 Assigmments
Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2005)
Adieu to Imaginary Worlds
One Last Look at Imaginary Worlds
ASSIGNMENT SHEET: Paper #3
Notes on 'Before the Law'
Samuel Beckett Links
Notes on 'Waiting for Godot'
Approaching 'Waiting for Godot'
Notes on 'Axolotl' by Julio Cortazar
Notes on 'EPICAC' by Kurt Vonnegut
ASSIGNMENT SHEET: Paper #2
DIRECTIONS: Independent Project
Suggested Readings: Independent Project
Character Analysis: Brave New World
Analyzing the Brave New World
Embarking on the Brave New World
A Critique of BRAVE NEW WORLD
Inferno: Final Destinations, Cantos XXXII-XXXIV
Inferno: Malebolge, Cantos XVIII-XXXI
Inferno: Questions/Analysis, Cantos XII - XVII
Structure in the Inferno: Analysis, Cantos V - XI
Inferno: Questions for Analysis, Cantos I - V
Introducing Canto I
Approaching the Divine Comedy
Relating to Dante's Inferno
Our Goals for Studying the Inferno
Assignment Sheet: PAPER #1
Leaf By Niggle
Responses to Leaf By Niggle
'On Fairy Stories' by J.R.R. Tolkien
Notes on Ovid and 'Metamorphoses'
Analyzing the Mythic Tales
The Four Functions of Myth
Myth and Metaphor
Myth - Links
Filtering the Introduction to 'Fantastic Worlds'
'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' and 'The Zebra Storyteller
Introducing the 'Imaginary Worlds' Theme
Alice In Wonderland
Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2004)
Conference Schedule: 4/21 and 4/26
Commentary: Following Up Your Response
Critical Thinking and Commentary
Casebook: Evaluating Sources
What is Argument?
Parts of an Argument
Casebook Assignment Sheet
Rubric for Evaluation of Writing
Assignment Sheet: Essay#1
Short Stories About Identity
Thoughts on Stories About Identity
Poems About Identity
Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'
ENG Q20: Basic Writing (Fall 2004)
ENG Q20 Syllabus
Frederick Douglass Excerpt
How to Detect Propaganda
George Orwell's Politics and the English Language
Propaganda Analysis Exercise
Weblog for WRT 120
Writing Assistance on the Web
Blackboard at WCU
WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library
"Axolotl" by Julio Cortázar ~~
Which of these
terms would you say describes the boy in "Axolotl"?
The state of being intensely interested (as by awe or terror)
1: an irrational motive for performing trivial or repetitive actions against
your will [syn: compulsion] 2: an unhealthy and compulsive preoccupation with
something or someone [syn: fixation]
Empathy is the
experience of awareness of the thoughts, emotions or concerns of others. Empathy
is often characterized as the ability to put oneself into another persons
"place." Humans experience empathy or feel empathic many times when
they see another person or animal during a positive or negative experience.
One must be careful not to confuse empathy with sympathy which characterized
as the experience of similar emotions to another person.
and researchers believe empathy is an acquired trait which you begin to learn
at a young age until late adolescence. Other theories state that empathy is
innate in higher mammals as shown in tests performed on infant children
concepts are compassion and sympathy.
The empathy reflex
is exploited to a certain extent in all kinds of fiction; we may identify
deeply with characters appearing in a text or on a screen. It is also possible
to identify with a person of the other sex or an animal. Empathy is thought
to be a driving psychological force behind the animal rights movement.
of animal behavior claim that empathy is not restricted to humans as the definition
implies. Examples include dolphins saving humans from drowning or from shark
attacks, and a multitude of behaviors observed in primates, both in captivity
and in the wild.
Empathy may be
painful: seeing the pain of others
Related to the topic of empathy is the concept of "emotional intelligence."
You can research this concept at Wikipedia.org (which provides a useful overview)
and see how you would characterize the boy's emotional intelligence.
How does the
boy become fascinated by the axolotl in the first place?
- He's alone,
on his bike, looking for something to do
friendless? It seems so, since
we never see him with a friend
- Out of boredom?
- Our of dissatisfaction
with his ordinary routinehe's usually attracted to the more popular
animals, the lions and the panthers (see the Rilke poem,
"The Panther") but this day they are disappointing. The lions
are "sad and ugly" and the panther is "asleep." So he
goes into the "dark, humid aquarium" and "unexpectedly"
he "hits it off" with the axolotls.
What is the
boy's initial reaction to the axolotls?
They seem to
capture his imagination, fascinate him. He reads the card, and later he goes
to the library to find out even more about them, but ultimately it's not information
from a book that he's seeking. These factual details aren't exactly what interest
him. If you look at those details, they're the normal kinds of things that
you'd find in an encyclopedia or dictionary about a particular animal: They're
a species of Mexican salamander (but he already knows this from looking at
their "little pink Aztec faces"); they can live on land or water;
they're edible; their oil was used like codliver oil. But the problem
with these facts is that they really tell him next to nothing about what it's
like to be an axolotl. They treat these animals, these living, breathing creatures
that have captured the boy's imagination, like inanimate objects. Empathy
tells him they are far from inanimate. When we turn a human being into an
object to be exploited, we call that "dehumanization." What do we
call it when we turn animals into objects? But we find it acceptable (for
the most part) to turn animals into objects, unless they are our pets, forgetting
that they are living, breathing creatures like us. This boy isn't looking
for facts; he's looking for an experience. And he gets it.
What do these
little details tell you about this particular boy?
- He's sensitive;
he's open to new experiences. He's imaginative. He's independent.
- He may be lonely
but even if he is, he makes very rich use of his solitude.
What's the nature
of his fascination?
- His fascination
leads to a growing empathy, which leads to feelings of guilt (for the creature's
imprisonment, it seems). At first, watching them sit there motionless, he
thought he understood "their secret will, to abolish space and time with
an indifferent immobility." But the boy later realizes that there is
no romantic "secret will" and that their immobility has nothing
to do with abolishing space and time; he realizes that captivity is a horrible
burden, an oppressive nightmare; they want to be free like any creature, swimming
freely, not sitting immobile in a cage.
- Early on and
throughout he associates the axolotl with Aztecs, the native Mexicans who
were vanquished by the Europeans, the Spanish
the axolotls have "eyes
of gold" (Aztec gold); they are "silent and immobile" like
ancient statues that serve as reminders of the civilization and the people
who were brutally conquered. These eyes, like the eyes of statues may "lack
any life, but they are looking"they see into us and we try to see
into them. He directly likens the axolotl to a "statuette corroded by
time" (425). He explains that it's the eyes which fascinate ("obsess")
him the most. They represent "another way of seeing" that is now
a mystery he wants to penetrate. "The golden eyes continued burning with
their soft, terrible light; they continued looking at me from an unfathomable
depth which made me dizzy" (426).
- He begins to
identify with the axolotls. He knows they look nothing like human beings,
like monkeys do, but he sees the "humanity" in them nevertheless."
When he claims the axolotl's were "not animals" (426) what do you
think he's driving at?
- Once he takes
the step of recognizing their "humanity" (we don't have a word for
what he wants to describe!) he begins to imagine them aware as a human being
is aware. He imagines they are conscious of their condition, as we are. The
plaintive cry he imagines is "Save us, save us." It doesn't get
more empathetic than that. On another level, the axolotls may be "Aztecs"
(who were also considered subhuman "savages") and who also might
still be "saved." Once he hears this plea, he begins to feel ashamed,
ignoble. Something is taking shape from the larval stage (axolotls never leave
their larval stage) that he fears. Some retribution for the cruelty of this
imprisonment maybe? He ends up imprisoned along with them in the end. His
empathy is so complete that he can't entirely leave them even when he stops
- His conscience
goes on overdrive: they are "devouring me slowly with their eyes, in
a cannibalism of gold" (427). Just thinking of them places him beside
the cage. The eyes never close; they are always with him. He can't escape
his feelings of empathy.
- Finally he acknowledges
that the axolotls are suffering, that they are "lying in wait for something,
a remote dominion destroyed, an age of liberty when the world had been that
of the axolotls" (427). They are lying in wait for their freedom, and
meanwhile they are in "liquid hell." This realization is what allows
him to penetrate finally into their world, because it is the "truth."
(How do we know it's the truth? We can only empathize.)
- From that point
on, the identity of the boy is confused; is he now an axolotl or a boy? Does
empathy always involve a kind of split, a kind of fracturing of identity?
Double vision? He feels "trapped." In what way is empathy a kind
of painful trap? Should we avoid it? (Not everyone has it or wants to have
it.) Do you think the story warns against empathy or encourages it?
What does the
We can justify
thematic statements like:
- Empathy is
- It's possible
for humans and animals to experience a "meeting of the minds."
- Like the axolotl
imprisoned in its cage, the soul is trapped inside the body.
But those kinds
of summary meanings, while they may be justified, seem so inadequate.
Let's leave that
question open and answer it with a quote from commentator Susan Nayel: "The
nightmare of being trapped inside the body of a beast is the human's experience,
and the panic of being abandoned by the man is the axolotl's final cry. The
only hope, as noted by the axolotl, is the creation of art where the writer
can become another and communicate on behalf of all creaturesexpressing
the feelings of all creatures so that none may fee the terror of isolation