Franz Kafka wrote a short story called The Top, which was published after his death. The story tells of a philosopher who believed that to understand every detail of any beautiful act would reveal the understanding of all truth. The philosopher decided that he could find this understanding in the spinning of a top. He would wait in hiding as children prepared for the spinning of the top. As soon as the children would set the top spinning he would run out from his hiding spot and grab the top. Seeing for a moment its beauty, and for a moment being fulfilled, “but only for a moment.”
And whenever preparations were being made for the spinning of the top, he hoped that this time it would succeed: as soon as the top began to spin and he was running breathlessly after it, the hope would turn to certainty, but when he held the silly piece of wood in his hand, he felt nauseated.
excerpt from The Top, by Franz Kafka, Translated by Tania and James Stern
After running after and finally grasping what he had wanted to study
, to find the beauty
in, he found it to be silly
. Upon grasping the top, the beauty of which he so desired to see and understand was destroy
ed, and he was left with nothing but a toy
in his hand.
I have seen in my own life that most beauties that I have tried to study too closely, especially with the goal of understanding the beauty – and hopefully gaining an insight into the deeper parts of life – is destroyed in the study. That which once brought me so much joy now sickens me. Only through a long retreat and stepping back from the study can I ever again appreciate the beauty.
It is not, however, the beauty that has been destroyed. The beauty is still there shining as bright as it ever did. It is our appreciation that is tainted and destroyed. The spinning of a top is still as beautiful as ever, but when we go to study the top we end up picking it up and destroying the simple beauty of it spinning. Our lust for understanding takes away our ability to appreciate the simple act of the spinning.
I do not know how the human mind always seems to destroy that which it finds so beautiful, but it is something we should learn from, and stay away from. Beauty observed and appreciated, not handled and dissected, is the only way to not destroy the beauty of that act or object in your mind.
This should not keep us from the study of beautiful things, but we must keep our distance, or our greedy hands will grab too quickly.