Number 522, Dec 22, 2005

Suspicious Thoughts

Rampant Crime or Paranoia?

If you believe that the name Alphabet City refers solely to a neighbourhood in New York, you are not alone. However, Alphabet City (AbC) is also the name of a magazine and self-described “interdisciplinary think tank devoted to advancing knowledge and public debate on fundamental concepts.” This Alphabet City is a result of Toronto-based editor, and founder, John Knechtel’s passion and commitment to exploring ideas that matter.

Knechtel’s latest creation, Alphabet City Number 10, simply titled Suspect, marks several changes in the project’s trajectory. It marks a brand new hardcover format, and AbC’s first time as a festival. Not to mention the fact that Suspect also marks the first time AbC is being published by MIT Press. So, calling Suspect a magazine is akin to saying Canadian winters are “chilly.” It gives you a hint what to expect, but it’s also a gross understatement. Suspect is an impressive anthology featuring work from more than 20 artists and intellectuals.

The central question of Suspect is, according to Knechtel, “What is the condition of the suspect today?” And does the current state of society accurately target criminals, or does it “generate suspicion indiscriminately?” Though there are no easy answers Suspect brings readers closer to understanding how and why suspicion is constructed, and what exactly it means to be suspect.

If the idea of browsing through an anthology “on the mechanisms and machinations of suspicion” seems dry and inapplicable to your life maybe you just need to look at it another way. Suspect is at once an essay, a memoir, a choose your own adventure, a graphic novel, a visual art project, a play, and a work of fiction. Content aside, Suspect, with its compact format and attractive design is a gorgeous object. Just owning a copy will make you look smart.

Among the suspicious contributions are works from “team players” Mark Kingwell and Patricia Rozema. Kingwell, a philosopher, University of Toronto professor, author, cultural critic, and all around smart guy includes an essay titled “Who Is The Suspect?” His essay is a complex tango of words discussing the structure and roots of suspicion. It is also an examination of narrative, in this case the detective story, as a form of organized suspicion. It’s a dense piece, to say the least, drawing on the history of film and literature to demonstrate the complexities of suspicion.

Kingwell’s essay ends with a story about a burglar entering a house only to be chased and captured by its occupant. Once the burglar is apprehended the man from the house realizes he does not know what to do with the burglar and lets him go. This story acts as a starting point for Patricia Rozema’s Suspect, an in-progress short film which premiered at The Drake Hotel at the AbC festival. Technical difficulties were in abundance at the premier screening making any kind of assessment difficult. Keep an eye out for the completed film, which will undoubtedly have a life of its own outside of AbC.

Rozema, best known for directing Mansfield Park, (based on Jane Austen novel of the same name) and When Night Is Falling, also has a photo essay of the same name in Suspect. Rozema’s Suspect is a moody vignette comprised of still photos and overlaid text. The work does not give the viewer all the answers, but reading Kingwell’s story beforehand fills in any possible gaps.

Much like any thorough examination of ideology, Alphabet City Suspect doesn’t seem to espouse any definitive conclusions. It is as though Knechtel is suggesting there is no easy way to understand the ramifications and rationale of suspicion. Rather than seeing this as a possible shortcoming Knechtel should be applauded for producing Suspect, a thorough, focussed and diverse look at a substantial concept.

Also includes visual art by Stephen Andrews and Cheryl Sourkes. Essays by Slavoj Zizek, an interview with Naomi Klein and fiction by Camilla Gibb.

For a complete list of contributors and additional information go to: