UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA PRESS, USA, 2006
REVIEWED BY DR. CATHIE DUNSFORD.
A warning. Dr. Katherine McKittrick’s Demonic Grounds may well change the way you think about your land, identity, cultural background, race, class, who we are and who we think we are, how you perceive geography and what the nature of geography is in the widest possible sense. You may find yourself and your notions challenged as you chart this new land of black women’s cartographies and in so doing, you may find you have to rechart your own territory of the land, mind and soul.
You will be asked to imagine what it is like to be a young black servant about to be auctioned off and you will be guided through the territory of those made invisible. You may never think about maps or charted territory the same way again.
If, like me, you began with an strong sense of identity based on your heritage, your whakapapa, your kaupapa, you will still be asked to question how we chart our lands, our identities, our histories, our cultures in the twenty first century.
And you will find yourself in a moving and flexible landscape where you cannot easily define identity outside of the inherited, colonial, imposed geographies of landscape, soulscape, mindscape yet the importance of doing so is a vital message of survival.
This is an exciting new territory full of potential and possibility once we learn to escape the shackles of an imposed colonial inheritance and look at geographies of being in an entirely new way. Through this journey, we can imagine new geographic narratives, new ways of speaking about ourselves, not just defined by where we were born or what imposed cartographies overlaid our own lived realities.
In her introduction, Dr. Katherine McKittrick talks about the importance of writing about the land, but redefining this as writing the land, the body, the mind, finding new narratives where “geography holds in it the possibility to speak for itself.” She quotes Dionne Brand, whose words urge her to go beyond the body of land to consider the body of thought, speech, the body of land as the skin of the person:
“When Dionne Brand writes, she writes the land….Brand’s decision to give up on land, to want no country, to disclose that geography is always human and that humaness is always geographic – blood, bones, hands, lips, wrists, this is your land, your planet, your road, your sea – suggests that her surroundings are speakable…she reminds me that the earth is also skin and that a young girl can legitimately take possession of a street, or an entire city, albeit on different terms than we may be familiar with.” [Introduction, ix]
The importance of this connexion between our bodies and the body of land is constantly stressed throughout black and indigenous literatures. Often they are one and the same. Sometimes it is impossible to talk about the rape of the land without talking about the raping of women and vice versa. In my novel, Manawa Toa, Heart Warrior, I describe the rape of Papatuanuku, the land, when massive shafts are driven deep into the Tahitian islands of Morurua and Faungataufa, penetrating the earth, in order to explode nuclear weapons. France “possessed” the land to rape and pollute the earth, and in so doing, they raped and polluted the seas and the women, ensuring that future generations of Maohi or Tahitian children would be born as “jelly fish babies” without limbs or eyes, irradiated, nuked and that the Maohi people would suffer from cancers and leukemias long beyond the decades of nuclear weapons testing 
Throughout Demonic Grounds, Katherine McKittrick politicises geography, brings it into focus within contexts that allow us to see that we must draw connexions between the politics of geography and the geography of politics, or we are doomed to repeat the same horrific lessons of the past by ignoring the connexions between the body of land and the land of our bodies. As a Black Canadian scholar, she is interested in showing this within the framework of slavery and the narratives of Black Women’s geographies, documenting the classic tools of making Black Canada invisible through the language and vision of a euro-centric imperialist system that still defines who and how we are.
The author bravely and eloquently charts new territory by unveiling the potential and possibilties when black studies and human geography meet: “Drawing on creative, conceptual, and material geographies from Canada, the USA and the Carribean, I explore the interplay between geographies of domination [such as transatlantic slavery and racial-sexual displacement] and black women’s geographies [such as their knowledges, negotiations and experiences], [Introduction, x]. In so doing, she redefines geography in its widest possible sense as “space, place and location” but also through literature and imagination, using every tool possible to broaden the concept and challenge us to see our geographies in expansive and imaginative ways.
No review could capture the depth and breadth of this exciting new approach by Katherine McKittrick which calls on all our resources to perceive the notion of our geographies in a multiplicity of ways. This book takes us on a journey and one not usually charted, where geography and black women’s lives collude, collide and create new ways of perceiving ourselves, our identities and our ways of being on this planet. No longer can geographers hide behind the veil of their colonial past and stay secluded in their studies using imperialistic and racist methods to define the geographies of our existences.
Least the reader think this only applies to the cartographies of black women of Canada, the Carribean and USA, be prepared for a journey that takes us way beyond these shores and literatures to chart our own new geographies of being as we see aspects of these new possibilities in our own lands, minds, bodies, identities. While the experiences and narratives specified by McKittrick are specific to these stories, they also relate to the imposition of traditional geography onto indigenous experiences, as mentioned before with Manawa Toa charting the talkstory of Maohi wahine suffering the rape of their lands and their bodies under French nuclear testing in their islands over many decades, the suffering still ongoing. There are countless other indigenous narratives that connect with and are amplified and demystified by her words.
After reading Demonic Grounds, you will never look at our geographies in the same ways again. Katherine McKitrick has opened the door to new ways of perceiving, recording and charting geograhies, building on Sylvia Wynter’s important research and developing this further.
She examines “Man’s geographies”  and looks at how these so often get taken as the truth because they are embedded in the traditional ways of imperialist knowledge and power. By applying Sylvia Wynter’s research, she finds and develops new ways of practising the art of geography that takes into account a deeper vision of our lives and experiences and leads to an exciting new discipline within the traditional geography as taught in schools and universities.
The importance of considering other disciplines, like poetry, fiction, film and theory, can reveal new areas of experience that relate to our geographies of being and thus a new poetics of geography emerges. Thus the symbolism of the auction block where black girls were auctioned off as slaves acts not just to re-mind us of the marginalisation of black women but instead to consider “how a radically racial-sexual biocentric geography can be transformed into a critical site of correlation.” [Ibid,145].
Transformation is a key word for this book. McKittrick successfully transforms an outdated mode of imperial geography into an exciting new discipline where all our lives are considered relevant and important in charting geographic narratives, where those who were formally marginalised come to the centre of the narrative and tell their own stories in their own words, thus empowering previously marginalised peoples of the world.
While reading and rereading Demonic Grounds, I was continually reminded of bell hook’s book: Bone Black: Memories of a Girlhood [The Women’s Press, UK, 1997] where bell hooks states, in her foreward: “Bone Black: memories of girlhood is not an ordinary tale. It is the story of girlhood rebellion, of my struggle to create self and identity distinct from and yet inclusive of the world around me. Writing imagistically, I seek to conjure a rich magical world of southern black culture that was sometimes paradisical and at other times terrifying.” While writing this review, my colleague, Dr. Karin Meissenburg, who has translated bell hook’s work for a German audience, was reading bell hook’s book again and the connexions and revelations between both these books became clear to us. This illustrates and amplifies the very notion that our narratives are implicit and relevant to any discussion of our geographies, as Katherine McKittrick states so lucidly in her book.
Katherine McKittrick charts a wider struggle “to create self and identity distinct from and yet inclusive of the world around…” In so doing, she also conjures a magical world of black culture which is often terrifying, full of suffering, but where lessons allow those willing to chart new territory to begin a brave new journey, never forgetting the past, but rather using its narratives and radical tools to inform and create a new and more egalitarian future.
It is not possible within the confines of a book review to capture the depth and layers of learning and new exploration implicit within the pages of Demonic Grounds. This is a text that should become a classic in defining a new way of studying, teaching and exploring the richness of what our geographies can offer us. It is a beautifully written work of literature as well as a cutting edge text and is relevant and vital to the ways we perceive the world.
Demonic Grounds is a blueprint for creating a more humane way of examining our geographies, our lives, the skin of the land, the skin of ourselves. It goes under the skin and unravels the layers beneath. McKittrick is an archeologist of the mind, soul and being, using geography as her tool for delving into the mysteries of our existences. In the process, she unravels new mysteries, translates narratives of bodies and land back into existence, makes the invisible visible again, tears off the layers of colonial and imperial power that would keep many of our lives under the radar. Like Jeanette Winterson’s narrator, in Written on the Body, she peels off the layers in order to discover and uncover a new body of land in much the same process I describe in Me and Marilyn Monroe, Writing the Body, New Fiction by New Zealand Women Authors:
“[In the process], we will learn to read the language of the body/the body of language in exciting and new ways. The distinctions may become less clear, the boundaries more merged. We may surprise ourselves, find we can read better than we thought-be read better than we imagined-like the narrator in Jeanette Winterson’s Written On The Body; ‘I like to keep my body rolled up away from prying eyes. Never unfold too much, tell the whole story. I didn’t know that Louise would have reading hands. She has translated me into her own book.’ 
Dr. Katherine McKittrick has shared with us new ways of reading our geographies, identities, our selves. She has helped translate invisible narratives into being and in so doing, offers us new ways of perceiving. I urge all readers to climb aboard the waka, or canoe, and journey into new realms. Order Demonic Grounds now and use it as a text in your university or community classes, discuss it in your readers’ groups, use it as a tool for charting new territories of how we can define our lives and discover new possibilities, new ways of being now and into the future: http://www.upress.umn.edu
 Cathie Koa Dunsford, Manawa Toa: Heart Warrior, Spinifex Press, Melbourne, Australia, 2000.
 Winterson, Jeanette, Written On The Body, Knopf, Canada, 1992, p89.