Marginalia: A Cultural Reader


277 pages
ISBN 0-14-028699-3
DDC 306'.09'049




Reviewed by Jeffrey J. Cormier

Jeffrey J. Cormier is a Ph.D. candidate specializing in Canadian society
at McGill University.


If you’re thirtysomething, it’s hard not to be a little envious of
Mark Kingwell: he gets to use “Foucault” and “Beavis and
Butthead” in the same sentence, opine on the relative merits of soap
operas like Melrose Place and sit-coms like Frasier, discuss Decartes’
mind–body dualism in the context of extreme sports, and casually
mention Zeno’s paradox in an essay about computers, the Internet, and
speed. All this, and he still manages to hold down a steady day job as a
philosophy professor at the University of Toronto.

What the 37 articles in this book allow Kingwell to do is to indulge in
his hobby of KulturKritik, Marx’s term for the activity of writing
about cultural affairs in order to “expose their hidden assumptions
and ideological tendencies.” Such is the modus operandi of Kingwell
the philosopher. Kingwell the journalist, on the other hand, is
concerned with using irony, sarcasm, and cynicism to slay pop culture
productions like Pulp Fiction, Mad About You, and Ally McBeal.

Kingwell’s strengths as a philosopher are evident in his insights
into the nature of modern citizenship and its relationship to the public
good, his views on the distinction between cynicism born of experience
and facile nihilistic cynicism, and his observation that our desire for
high-speed digital lifestyles is really just a way of coping with our
own mortality. The problem with this book isn’t the
philosophy—it’s that there isn’t enough of it. The reviewer is
among those who wish Kingwell would take a sabbatical from pop culture
and write another “real book.”


Kingwell, Mark., “Marginalia: A Cultural Reader,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 21, 2024,