Jorie Graham’s Overlord: Poetics, Ethics, and Différance
*Overlord* by Jorie Graham requires a theoretical paradigm which can account for the Overlord within it; this paradigm, I will argue, is Jacques Derrida’s différance. Just as différance produces an endless chain of violent repetition, so too does the Overlord. The latter is merely an addressable version of différance, one which Graham can refer to by name—though that fact does little in the way of containing its violence. I will also explore the power of différance to interpret the entire volume, revealing ways in which Graham’s theoretical commitments shape her ethical and stylistic choices into a unified whole. This does not mean that I will deconstruct Overlord—in fact, my primary deconstructive move will be targeted at deconstructive ethics. From the outset, it is important to keep in mind that although différance is central to an understanding of Graham’s poetic, it cannot explain the force of her ethical commitments. The burden of making that claim believable, of course, is mine. Much of this work will be concerned with the possibility of ethics after différance, a possibility that will ultimately open true resistance to the Overlord. Although it is not my intention to produce an apology for Overlord as good poetry, any careful reading must begin by expecting to find something of worth in the text under consideration. Yet this defense, though true, will not satisfy pessimistic readers—and rightly so. I have already indicated where my allegiance lies by my selection of Overlord as a candidate for analysis. To borrow a phrase from J. Hillis Miller, “The choice of examples…and their ordering, is never innocent” (The Ethics of Reading 10). The authors in my introduction appear in the order that they do—Graham, Derrida, Hillis Miller—precisely because that is the order in which I will discuss them. From a close reading of Graham, I will pass into a close reading of Derrida and Graham together. Finally, I will place the ethical commitments of Hillis Miller in concert with those readings.