First, The Redress Project started as a reading group at Berkeley that met in the fall semester of 2004 "to foster a discussion of some of the different ways that . . . scholars [in different fields] . . . think about specific instances of historical injustice and the possibility of their remedy. The Redress Group’s ongoing task is to open up critical dialogue on questions of injury, justice, and closure that have yet to be posed within the traditional disciplines, and to address problems that have been either denied or repressed within liberal historiographic and philosophical critique." In their Introduction to the special issue of Representations, "Fugitive Justice," Stephen Best and Saidiya Hartman conceptualize a "redress discourse" that would locate itself in the space between "grievance and grief; between the necessity of legal remedy and the impossibility of redress" and which is also "the political interval in which all captives find themselves--the interval between the no longer and the not yet, between the destruction of the old world and the awaited hour of deliverance" (p. 3). Best and Hartman also outline the chief questions of the Redress Project:
- Why is justice fugitive? Why [for former slaves] . . . does justice appear elusive and perpetually dubious from within the crucible of slavery and at the height of the slave trade--when the time of injury and the time of repair would have been coeval? [Former slaves] . . . could not have been accused, as many are today, of "sleeping on their rights." Is this elusiveness then an index of the incommensurability between grief and grievance, pain and compensation?
- What is justice for the slave? What is justice for the slave's descendants? Does the slave even have descendants? Who are the slave's many descendants?
- What is slavery? [This, I think, is the especially pertinent question relative to early Anglo-Saxon legal classifications of different sorts of "persons"] What is the violence particular to slavery? . . . What is the essential feature of slavery: (1) property in human beings, (2) physical compulsion and corporal correction of the laborer, (3) involuntary servitude, (4) restrictions on mobility or opportunity or personal liberty, (5) restrictions of liberty of contract, (6) the expropriation of material fruits of the slave's labor, (7) absence of collective self-governance or non-citizenship, (8) dishonor and social death, (9) racism? We understand the particular character of slavery's violence to be ongoing and constitutive of the unfinished project of freedom.
- What is the slave--property, commodity, or disposable life?
- What is the time of slavery? [again--very apropos to our concerns with temporality as medievalists] Is it the time of the present, as Hortense Spillers suggests, a death sentence reenacted and transmitted across generations?
- Is it a time that we can all remember?
- Why is the history of reparations of slavery . . . a history of nonevent, a history of events either too recent to deserve the name of history or events that reverse contemporary expectations about reparations? And extending from that last question, why is the appeal for redress one that always seems to arrive too late, and to be marked by a note of belatedness and insufficiency?
Finally, in their Introduction, Best and Hartman are at pains to distinguish the work of their project from work on reparations or on remembering and working through trauma. Rather, they see their work [and the work of the other scholars involved with them] as:
the attempt to interrogate rigorously the kinds of political claims that can be mobilized on behalf of the slave (the stateless, the socially dead, and the disposable) in the political present. . . . we are concerned neither with "what happened then" nor with "what is owed because of what happened then," but rather with the contemporary predicament of freedom, with the melancholy recognition of forseeable futures still tethered to the past. . . . what is the story about the slave we ought to tell out of the present we ourselves inhabit--a present in which torture isn't really torture, a present in which persons have been stripped of rights heretofore deemed inalienable?
Since the contributors to the Redress Project see their subject as one that is mainly post-colonial [and therefore locates its incipit in the early modern period], I would ask, finally, how might medieval studies contribute to this Project? What, further, can medieval studies learn from this Project?
And thanks to Janet Thormann, who passed on to me the special issue of Representations that Best & Hartman edited.