that got me thinking about the extraordinary real-life 'sculptures' i saw in pompeii, italy. when mount vesuvious erupted, it buried the town in ash. thousands died. when it was excavated 2,000 years later, they found human-shaped absences in the ground. an archeologist had the clever idea of pouring plaster into the pockets, thus creating astonishing sculptures of people dying on the streets of the ancient roman seaport.
the faces are frozen in 20-century-old terror, bodies huddled in the fetal position or protecting others. some find it a ghoulish spectacle, but i found it immensely touching - and for the same reason as auster's character forms his Bios Unlimited company, and for the same cheeky joy of novel writing.
walking about italy today, it's not hard to see what the rich and powerful of ancient rome looked like - we see busts and statues all over the joint. but if not for the curious disaster of pompeii, we'd have little idea what real, ordinary people looked like. the sculptures of pompeii immortalize anonymous people - people like us. that's what auster's guy wants to do, and that's what i love to do in novels.
think shakespeare in love. i take little pieces of the people in my life - quirks, habits, ways of speaking, and, most fun, secrets - and put it into a novel. change names, change physical appearance and no one will guess who's inspired by whom - not even the person who inspired it.
thus secrets that are otherwise locked away forever are published for anyone in the whole world to read, but no one (except me) knows what they are reading. anonymous immortality.