Nietzsche: Serious Play

The most interesting thing to my younger nieces, and to young children in general, is bubbles.

Blowing bubbles, playing with bubbles in a bath, chasing them as they come out of a bubble machine. It’s of endless fascination and fun to them.

Bubbles to adults? Annoying. Smelly. Sticky. (Or is that just me?) We seem to have missed or grown out of noticing the fact that, within a world set in its shapes and colours, these perfectly spherical ephemera appear from something as mundane as washing-up liquid. It doesn’t just look like magic, it plainly is.

Here’s food for thought. Consider this picture.

No, that is not a CGI hippie-planet.

That is a macro shot of a bubble. A little more interesting now, no?

First seeing that shot, I thought: this is the sort of dumbfounded fascination that children must feel when they see and play with bubbles in real life. It’s arresting in its beauty, its sublimity. No wonder they are transfixed by them. Not that they are thinking that consciously, but they act it out (even when they run around the garden trying to eat them), knowing it on some deeper level from which we are unconnected in adulthood.

Wasn’t I supposed to be writing about Nietzsche?

“Maturity: that means to have rediscovered the seriousness one had as a child at play.”

Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, §94

This is quite interlinked with my rambling above (I promise).

My five-year-old niece was quite annoyed when her Nan put water in one of her toys in her bubblebath. “No! That’s only got bubble icing in it!” Nan tried to compensate by taking some bubbles out of another jug. Again, my niece protested, “No! That’s the icing on my water cake!” Such is the seriousness of a child at play.

Whatever it is in adulthood that distracts us from this seriousness – this utter enthralment with things we now classify as mundane – it costs us our openness to being struck with wonder at “simple” things as they really are. That’s something children offer us: the world through a fresh pair of eyes, with fresh wonder at its shapes and colours as they appear to them.

Play is serious; natural and necessary. As an adult, I don’t play with bubbles. Yet as I behold the maniacally enthused children a-chasing them, I am convinced there’s little reason to live life in too different a manner. Happily. Enthusiastically. Wholeheartedly. With wonder. With the seriousness of a child at play.

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