Books
by Stephen Vizinczey

The Rules of Chaos

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The Rules of Chaos

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Reviews | Excerpt | Read the Bookline

 

“The rules of chaos will always prevail.”
-Stephen Vizinczey

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First published in 1969, The Rules of Chaos is a collection of philosophical, political and literary essays.


Inspired by his opposition to the Vietnam War, Vizinczey dispels the myth and reveals the true nature of power. Power weakens as it grows.

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Reviews for

The Rules of Chaos

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“Brilliant and challenging. . . . exhilarating . . . emancipating . . . This is a book which taunts and tantalizes you with your own hopes and desires . . . one is swept along with an urgency and an excitement which make the mind tingle in helter-skelter alternations of pleasure and self-defensive indignation.” – Dennis Potter, The Times (London)

“. . . Vizinczey is a natural entertainer – a man who has the gift of holding his reader's deepest attention – and he has so many ideas that any reader is bound to seize a few.”
– The Guardian (London)

“. . . elegant and thoughtful book . . . ” – Simon Raven, The Spectator (London)

“The new book by the author of In Praise of Older Women is going to be cussed, discussed, bought, and borrowed. Vizinczey's informal, high-spirited essays suggest a philosophical derivation from Schopenhauer and Nietzsche . . . but he is never pontifical. Exhortative, yes: his fundamental notion is that cause does not apply to history, that life is chaotic and accidental in nature, and that 'in a chaotic world moral decisions are the only rational ones.' Here are overtones of 'live dangerously' as Vizinczey explores the 'rules' of the world as he sees it, stressing a realistic vision that resists 'suicidal faith in the future and human power.' . . . There is a do-your-own-thing thrust, buoyantly and charmingly applied to politics, the student revolution, sex and literature – the last including an homage to Stendhal and a devastating critique of Styron's Nat Turner. Sane, searching, stimulating.” – Publishers' Weekly (New York)

“The style of Vizinczey the philosopher, like the style of Vizinczey the novelist, is spare and precise; and the content, again, is uniquely a combination of the boyishly naive and the worldly wise. Vizinczey has demonstrated for the second time that his charm is as impressive as his bravado.”
– Robert Fulford, Saturday Night (Toronto)


“Vizinczey is the first writer to see and to report what was really the spirit and the purpose of my campaign. I was also glad to read his book for what it has to say about life and history in general.”
– Senator Eugene J. McCarthy

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An Excerpt from

The Rules of Chaos

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A Place Where You Don't Feel Lonely
(Excerpts from a diary)

16 June 1968, FONTAINEBLEAU

. . . I've been happy all day . . . there's no other reason for it but the place itself. It's so strange, it's evidently not like any of the places where I spend most of my life – I wouldn't be so affected by it if it were. During the whole day, I haven't been tempted once to close my eyes, to ignore what came into my field of vision – I haven't even seen a repulsive face, though this must have been an accident. I'm not used to being surrounded only by beautiful sights, that's why I must be feeling heady.

I'm writing this in my room in the Hôtel de Londres, on my big solid table facing the window, which faces the entrance court of the oldest royal palace in France, and the best. I can't see the whole chateau, of course (you can't do that except from the air) – I'm looking down at the Cour des Adieux and I can see the shadow of the great staircase, two waves of stone leaping up the facade. It draws you to the building, then sends you hack to take another look at the whole courtyard, the three wings with the merrily changing patterns of their mansard roofs. I was walking back and forth in the Cour des Adieux for an hour this morning, before I got around to the Carp Pond that edges up to the Fountain Court, which is yet another courtyard of another three-winged palace of an earlier period – or rather it's still the same palace but a different part of it. Fontainebleau is a smallish, self-contained building from any single angle – it dawned on me only after hours of walking how huge it really is. It is a masterpiece of architectural understatement.

The Carp Pond (with angry gold fish jumping into the air in their struggle for bread crumbs) encircles a royal love nest, a single octagonal room protected by the water. From the other side of the Pond I walk into the English Garden (there is nothing quite like it in England) where perfect statues of pretty women with exquisite small breasts, and pedestal busts with magnificent old faces stand among the trees and bushes, giving a dimension of human beauty to the woods. The magic of the mixture cannot be described, only experienced.

It is present even inside the palace. The rooms and corridors appear to exist only to provide space for the rendering of human figures in marble, stucco, and paint. Most of them are women and children – the babies are show-offs, thrusting out their chubby, cheerful bottoms from the doors, the walls and even the ceilings. And all this humanity frolics in a green shade, for the huge windows let in the gardens. I experienced today in a singular way the brotherhood of men and nature . . . Diana with her dogs. . .

I started early today from Grenoble and planned to stop at Fontainebleau only for a couple of hours, intending to get back to London tonight, but I can't recall the sense of urgency which possessed me when I made my plans. Beauty is distracting. Which is the whole point – but it hadn't occurred to me before I watched the people strolling in the gardens as if they could never run out of time and I suddenly realized that it was years since I'd seen people quite so unhurried.

We're always in transit, worried about being late, oblivious of our route. The modern environment presses us inward, into a kind of mental hibernation – we try not to absorb the poison, not to see, not to respond. But the more efficient we become at ignoring everything which attacks our senses, the less we're able to sense our surroundings. We cease to look about in the world, we increasingly travel inside our skull, prey to unbroken chains of thought which turn into obsessions. Whatever filters through from the real world, we turn into further fantasy stuff.

So, on arrival, Fontainebleau is a jolt. I noticed in the Francois I Gallery, packed with the marvels of the Italian Renaissance (the first sight after one is let in through the visitors' entrance) that there was a lot of talk about hotel prices, restaurants, politics. But by the time we reached the Col de Cygne vestibule, everyone had forgotten about himself and was watching the statue of a small boy hugging a big swan, his dimpled fingers half-submerged in the plumage, while the swan strains forward and bends his long neck to drink the water.

. . . Obsession is the momentum of undistracted logic. So even when we forget about beauty, we suffer from her deadening absence – for beauty has the compelling power to distract us from ourselves, to rescue us from the worst loneliness of all, the isolation of fantasy life. . .

20 June, FONTAINEBLEAU

. . . A couple of years ago, in Washington, I was so rude as to confess to a friend that I thought the White House would look cheap even beside the Bourbons' palace in Naples, on the Capodimonte, which never stored any real power. My friend dismissed my complaint. “You can't judge the White House from what you can see of it,” he said impatiently. “Most of it is underground.”

Here in Fontainebleau you're bound to feel kindly toward the ancient monarchs. In the Capodimonte or Versailles (Versailles stores the biggest collection of dukes and kings with mean, corrupt faces), it wasn't difficult to remember that the royal splendor was made from the sweat and blood of the poor. But modern rulers are spending more than royal fortunes on stockpiling missiles, sending junk into outer space and building underground labyrinths crammed with the gadgets of mad children, while half of mankind is hungry. The bad old king at least gave his subjects some notion of the joys he was robbing from them. He explored the possibilities of ideal living conditions. There is really no need for learned commissions and committees to ponder what people are missing. The research has been done, it's all here: buildings no higher than trees, wide rooms, high ceilings, big windows, works of art, ever present mementos of the past, and all this not far from birds, gardens and lakes.

I wish I could print a leaflet about this, a Fontainebleau manifesto, and distribute a few million copies around the suburbs and the slums – not that it would make the slightest difference. But then, nothing is impossible.

22 June, FONTAINEBLEAU

I was told that the rocks in the Temagami region of Northern Ontario had been there for 175,000,000,000 years, but they looked no more ancient than the small airplanes and motorboats, the gas stations and snack bars. Nature shows herself no older than her human frame and gives us no inkling of what went on before we were born, once we destroy the man-made signs.

At Fontainebleau I'm overwhelmed by the immensity of the past, though only a few walls date back even as far as the twelfth century, when it was first built as a hunting lodge for Louis VI.

The chateau, like all great works of art, has the live tension of contradictions. There's the dramatic blending of straight lines and curves – one could almost say that every straight line runs into a curve and they somehow balance, but just so . . . The building is alive because it has been growing through the centuries, as each king added a wing, a gallery or a pavilion. The style of each is rooted in its own period, but reflects all that preceded it, so time's passing is marked even though its continuity is unbroken. When you go through a doorway or up a staircase, you're walking into another century, yet the whole thing is still one piece. . . .

. . . I haven't felt so keenly for a long time how abandoned we are without the company of the dead. Perhaps we're obsessed with the future and find it difficult to relate to the present, because we're cut off from the past. Our sense of time is out of joint. There is no other way to explain the hysteria of everyday life and politics. The idea that it is better to have a nuclear war and annihilate mankind than to let the enemy “win” isn't trumpeted as much these days as it used to be, but the panic is still on. It's as if everything in history would happen once and for all.

Fontainebleau was Napoleon's favorite among all the royal palaces of France. Here he is more than the semi fictional figure of monuments and history books – here one can sense that he was a living person – mementos of his daily life are everywhere. The love nest on the lake was built by Louis XIV, but it is called le Pavillon de l'Empereur and hears his proud N. I lingered on today in his bedroom in the chateau – it's a shock, how small a bed he needed, even though one knows he was a short man—the paintings tell tall stories. His bed is no bigger than a child's cot, though above it there is a king-size velvet canopy and the woodwork is swarming with his emblems – bees, N's, laurel wreaths and winged figures of Victory. In an antechamber, under a glass dome on a round table, rests the emperor's "small hat" which he wore while commanding his armies in the battles that won him most of Europe; and in the Map Room stands his great globe which he could spin around as he pleased, and to some consequence. Napoleon thought this chateau was the most fitting place from which to rule a continent: he called Fontainebleau “the house of the centuries, the true residence of kings.” It was here, too, that he signed, incredulously, his abdication. Through my window I'm looking at the Cour des Adieux, with the leaping staircase. He walked down its steps on 20 April 1814 and said farewell to the still-faithful soldiers of his shrunken army, before he was taken away into exile. Adieu, mes enfants!

Today I cannot understand how people can talk about decisive victories or defeats. But I'm leaving tomorrow. We free ourselves from the past, and we live condemned to solitude in time.

The Fontainebleau Manifesto

WE RENOUNCE THE FUTURE.
WE DON'T CARE FOR VICTORIES.
WE DON'T WANT TO RULE OTHER MEN.
WE DON'T WANT TO CONQUER NATURE.
WE KNOW THAT DEATH DEFEATS US.
WE WANT TO RECONQUER THE PAST,
LIVE FOR THE PRESENT, AND RULE ONLY OURSELVES.

OUR PRIDE IS THAT WE REMAIN SANE AND WILLING TO LOVE
DESPITE THE HORRORS OF THE WORLD, BUT IT IS DIFFICULT.
WE CAN'T LIVE ON BREAD SOURED BY SQUALOR.
WE CAN'T BREATHE AIR POISONED BY DEATH FACTORIES.

WE DON'T NEED MISSILES, CARS, COMPUTERS, ELECTRIC TOOTHBRUSHES.
WE CAN DO WITHOUT ALL THE JUNK GREAT KINGS COULD DO WITHOUT,
BUT WE CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT AIR, THE FORESTS, THE FIELDS AND THE RIVERS,
GREAT SQUARES AND GARDENS AND YES, OUR PALACES.
IT IS A LIE THAT THE WORLD CANNOT AFFORD SPLENDOR FOR EVERYONE-
WE RENOUNCE REAL-ESTATE VALUES.

WE CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT BEAUTY;
MANY OF US SEEK IT IN DRUGS
AND ALCOHOL AND HATE.
WE TRY NOT TO SUCCUMB TO SUBSTITUTES
BUT IT IS DIFFICULT.
THE WORLD NEEDS A ROYAL REVOLUTION
SO THAT ALL MEN MAY LIVE LIKE KINGS.

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The Rules of Chaos

by Stephen Vizinczey

The Rules of Chaos

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