In defense of procrastination.

W. A. Pannapacker (what a name!) has an interesting piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education on the link between procrastination and genius, specifically in the case of Leonardo da Vinci.  Da Vinci, as you may or may not know, what an epic procrastinator, filling notebooks with sketches of future ideas, too many to follow through on in a lifetime.  Pannapacker notes, “Nowadays, Leonardo might have been hired by a top research university, but it seems likely that he would have been denied tenure. He had lots of notes but relatively little to put in his portfolio.”

The essay concludes,

Academe is full of potential geniuses who have never done a single thing they wanted to do because there were too many things that needed to be done first: the research projects, conference papers, books and articles — not one of them freely chosen: merely means to some practical end, a career rather than a calling. And so we complete research projects that no longer interest us and write books that no one will read; or we teach with indifference, dutifully boring our students, marking our time until retirement, and slowly forgetting why we entered the profession: because something excited us so much that we subordinated every other obligation to follow it.

If there is one conclusion to be drawn from the life of Leonardo, it is that procrastination reveals the things at which we are most gifted — the things we truly want to do. Procrastination is a calling away from something that we do against our desires toward something that we do for pleasure, in that joyful state of self-forgetful inspiration that we call genius.

As a dedicated procrastinator, I appreciate the sentiment.  In perusing the virtual pages of the Salon, however, I must admit that if Dark Days in Monkey City, Mansquito, and Hamster on a Piano are the traces of my roiling genius, my legacy is in trouble.

8 thoughts on “In defense of procrastination.

    • Hear, hear! And of course the weekly status reports, yearly ‘goals’, annual electronic pledges that we have read the ethics document, taken the harassment e-learning course yet again, and completed other process administration that choke even those of us not blessed enough to be among the ivy, instead spending our dwindling time in cubicles without even a sightline out the window. And I used to love my work, too.

      Nowadays, when I procrastinate, I can’t even find the spark of creativity that would make it worthwhile. Too much solitaire, stock market voyeurism, and not enough art. Then again, my sister mentioned Biber Violin Sonatas – and I haven’t even heard the name, so there’s something new for me to discover.

      Of course, I did find time to write this.

  1. Can Pannapacker read wikipedia on Leonardo?

    I agree with the essence of YOUR post, but this Pannapacker fellow/woman is a douchebag who seems to be ripping off my student’s papers.

    Leonardo might not have accomplished as much as Michelangelo in terms of the number of works of art he painted/finished but his accomplishments are measured in other ways. I suggest he read wikipedia more closely.

    Here is what he did do: advised the King of France, painted the Last Supper fresco, revolutionized the art of drawing during the Renaissance, he was also a military advisor, built weapons, studied botany, developed precise anatomical studies of the human body, and wrote important artistic treatises. Not to mention that the he perfected the use of oil paints in Italy. I could go on…Leonardo is the Renaissance man bc he had many interests, many of which changed Italy bla bla bla

    This douchebag seems to think that looking at someone’s notebooks online gives one insight onto what they actually accomplished.

    Leonardo had tenure, or the closest thing to that back then, as the King of France basically supported him because he was so smart and was such a good advisor. He apparently died in the arms of the king of France.

    I’m not sure Leonardo is a procrastinator. He had many interests and some of his ideas could not be finished or built because the technology was not available. ie the flying machines and helicopter-like things that he drew.

    So what is this all about, then? Mr. Pannacotta is just bored, has tenure and tries to justify the fact that he too is a genius and somehow can’t produce anything because he got bored and has to face the reality that he has to teach and actually publish his research.

    I feel bad for him, he seems to be a shoddy scholar and a bitter man who is stuck in academia.

    As for me, clearly my genius is well spent writing bitchy commentaries about little fools. Now I have to go teach, I mean listen to my students’ presentations.

    the alpha lady

      • Re: Can Pannapacker read wikipedia on Leonardo?

        i need to start drinking more so i can relax.

        also i should go make some real pannacotta.

        alpha lady

      • Re: Can Pannapacker read wikipedia on Leonardo?

        i used this recipe. it is delicious. i think once i made pannacotta with buttermilk and it curdled on me. i also burnt myself with the caramel. i think regular sugar is fine.

        [this is from michael chiarello]


        Serves: Serves 6

        1/2 cup superfine sugar
        2 tablespoons water
        3 cups heavy cream
        2 1/2 gelatin leaves
        Combine the sugar and water in a heavy saucepan. Stir until all the sugar is moistened, then place over moderately low heat and cook without stirring. Watch carefully as the sugar liquefies and begins to darken. When the sugar has turned a rich golden brown – do not let it darken too much – add the cream all at once, being careful as it may spatter and burn you. The sugar will seize into a clump immediately, but as the cream warms, the sugar will dissolve. Keep stirring patiently with a wooden spoon, scraping up the undissolved caramel on the bottom of the pan, until all the caramel has dissolved and the mixture has turned a pale butterscotch color.

        Meanwhile, soak the gelatin leaves in a large bowl of cold water until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Squeeze gently to remove excess water, then add the gelatin to the warm sweetened cream. Stir until the gelatin melts, about 30 seconds, then strain the mixture through a sieve.

        Ladle into six 4- to 5-ounce molds. Cover and refrigerate until firm, several hours or overnight. To unmold, run a knife under hot water until the knife is hot, wipe it dry, then run it around the inside edge of each mold and invert onto individual plates.

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