This essay coins the concept of redactive reading to describe a method for interpreting women’s absences in racialized and gendered histories of collective trauma through M. NourbeSe Philip’s 2008 poem, Zong! In 1781, the Zong crew murdered as many as 150 African captives following a water shortage and tried to claim insurance on victims. Gregson v. Gilbert denied plaintiffs the right to profit from murder without indicting anyone for the atrocity. This diasporic Caribbean poet revives mythological figures—notably, the biblical Ruth—to expose Western law and the English language as insidious tools of epistemic violence. In naming three archetypes that reincarnate “ruth”— the rebellious slave, the lady of society, and the raped whore—this article interrogates the white, patriarchal, imperialist imaginary behind the massacre. Redactive reading is a strategy for reading femininity as a structuring absence on which canons of exclusion—from legal rights to representational politics and the sympathetic imagination—are built.

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