Not a book about what Beowulf means but how it means, and how the reader participates in the process of meaning construction.
Overing’s primary aim is to address the poem on its own terms, to trace and develop an interpretive strategy consonant with the extent of its difference. Beowulf’s arcane structure describes cyclical repetitions and patterned intersections of themes which baffle a linear perspective, and suggest instead the irresolution and dynamism of the deconstructionist free play of textual elements.
Chapter 1 posits the self/reader as a function of the text/language, examining the ways in which the text "speaks" the reader. Chapter 2 develops an interactive semiotic strategy in an attempt to describe an isomorphic relation between poem and reader, between text and self. Chapter 3 addresses the notions of text and self as more complex functions or formulations of desire, and thus complicates and expands the arguments of the two preceding chapters. The final chapter examines the issue of desire in the poem, and, to a lesser extent, desire in the reader (insofar as these may legitimately be viewed as distinct from each other).