Bewildering Stories discusses...
“The Lamp of the Body”
with Joe Pitkin
“The Lamp of the Body” appears in issue 607.
[Don Webb] “The Lamp of the Body” strikes me as a story that print magazines such as Analog or Asimov’s might have trouble with on account of its length. In contrast, Bewildering Stories can say, “We don’t have those problems...” We get lots of good stories that way.
“Lamp” has occasioned some discussion, particularly about the symbolism of light, e.g. lighthouses, the flash that Dora sees, etc.
Sandra’s mental state reminds me of Meursault’s, in Camus’ L’Étranger. Or course, Meursault is bored but, unlike Sandra, not really depressed. As the title says, he’s a foreigner in his own country and doesn’t understand what he witnesses. Sandra understands almost everything except the mysterious flash that Dora sees. And, like Meursault, she comes to a recognition of her own emotional state at the end.
[Joe Pitkin] As for Meursault — good catch! I wasn’t thinking of The Stranger when I wrote this, but it’s hard not to see some parallels between Meursault’s and Sandra’s alienation.
I guess, now that I think about it, that the light was intended to remain a mystery. I know that the title comes from one of Jesus’ sayings, which struck me as the most Buddhist sentiment in the whole gospel: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.”
I was intrigued by the idea that our happiness depends on our seeing things as they are and that seeing things as they are requires that our eyes be “healthy,” whatever implications that has for how our society conceives of mental health.
I guess if there was any direct literary influence on the way I constructed the image, it would be Parker’s vision from Flannery O’Connor’s story “Parker’s Back.”
[Don W.] Now that is interesting, Joe. One never knows where things will lead or, as in this case, where they come from. Good sources are where you find them.
The scriptural quotation is Buddhist-like, and some might even say it’s of Buddhist origin. I suspect that’s unlikely. Jesus was always in touch with his audiences and chose commonplace images from everyday life, ones he knew everybody would understand.
In the end, I would agree that the important thing in “The Lamp of the Body” is not the light itself. It’s not what Dora sees that matters but what Sandra sees and, ultimately, the recognition it leads her to.
Copyright © 2015 by Joe Pitkin
and Bewildering Stories