ILLUSION AND REALITY….In an episode scheduled to air sometime this spring, the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 on Lost are going to find the manuscript of “Bad Twin,” a book written by one of the passengers who died in the crash. At the same time, bookstores around the country are going to offer eager customers the very same book, supposedly written by a Lost character and carrying cover blurbs from fictional reviewers.

All harmless fun, perhaps, but David Ulin, the book editor of the LA Times, is disturbed:

There’s something creepy about the nudge-nudge, wink-wink insistence that “Bad Twin” was found instead of manufactured, and it goes beyond the idea of writing as a commodity, a gimmick, a ploy. In fact, the marketing of the novel suggests something far more insidious ? that we, the audience, exist not only to be manipulated but to participate in our manipulation by seeing it as cool. This is the kind of thing that literature has traditionally stood against.

Help me out, literature mavens. It strikes me that this is exactly backward: far from standing against this kind of thing, literature has always depended on readers who not only agree to be manipulated but actively revel in it. Occasionally this is overt (clapping our hands for Tinkerbell, David Foster Wallace telling us to make up our own ending for Infinite Jest), but more often it’s simply part and parcel of the willing suspension of disbelief that’s required to enjoy fiction in the first place.

The phony Lost novel obviously belongs in the “overt” category (as well as the “marketing gimmick” category, of course), but if David Foster Wallace can do it, then why not the producers of Lost? In fact, perhaps they’re just exploring the all-too-often uninterrogated and subtextual boundaries between art and modern marketing in an attempt to playfully subvert our lazy and unquestioned acceptance of the traditional classist hermenuetics of TV drama?

Or else they’re just trying to make a buck and it’s nothing to worry about. Your call.

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