Frank Lentricchia, Jody McAuliffe, . . Univ. of Chicago, $22.50 (200pp) ISBN 978-0-226-47205-8

Following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center two years ago, no statement caused more anger than composer Karlheinz Stockhausen's description of it as "the greatest work of art that is possible in the whole cosmos," something "we couldn't even dream of in music." Duke University's husband-and-wife team Lentricchia and McAuliffe contend that Stockhausen's pronouncements addressed, however ill-advisedly, connections among art, spectacle, transgression and the Western imagination that many are now eager to sweep under the rug. Moving through Stockhausen to a wide range of material, they ask the difficult question: is Western art's post-Romantic veneration of the destructive, alienated outsider—from Oedipus to Travis Bickle—in any way answerable for the real destruction our culture brings into being? While the book's seven chapters spend a certain amount of time with such expected, even overfamiliar subjects as Don DeLillo's Mao II and Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho , it comes most to life with such bold juxtapositions as the boxes of Joseph Cornell and the cabin of Theodore Kaczynski, or Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov and Scorsese's Rupert Pupkin. Likewise, Coppola's Apocalypse Now is read not only through Conrad but also Thomas Mann and John Cassavetes. Ending with an imaginary dialogue between Heinrich Kliest and Mohammad Atta, the book's accessible combination of conceptual daring and moral seriousness places it well above the common run of lit crit. (Nov.)