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[xmca] The Study of Procrastination and the Procrastination of Study

First of all, belated thanks to Mike and Huw for their concern about my cyber-health. At Huw's suggestion, I junked the yahoo account (they must have the WORST news on the internet, and the biggest bevy of bigots commenting on it) and resubscribed.


It took me a while! Partly it was thanks to a ferocious spam filter at uni, but mostly it was because I have been reading...well...actually...you see...to tell you the truth...it's all about the psychology of procrastination.


Procrastination is something I have always meant to write about but never quite gotten around to. It seems to me that a good deal of Vygotsky's method, both for studying the development of higher psychological functions and for studying literature, has to do with the artificial generation and observation of procrastination and its role in making actions deliberate and ultimately moral (and also in robbing them of any actual utility and significance).


For example: In Act Three, Hamlet makes a bloodthirsty speech:


….Now could I drink hot blood

And do such bitter business as the day

Would quake to look on.


He then happens upon the king at prayers. Hamlet draws his sword. Hamlet raises his hand. And Hamlet does not strike, because to kill the king at prayers would send him to heaven.


Now, many critics—including Vygotsky (1971: 171) have considered this reason frivolous. More religious (and less anachronistic) critics, have been offended by Hamlet’s belief that a human being can decide whether another human is to be damned or saved, simply by killing at the right instant. (The truly religious believe that evil humans simply cannot repent at the last moment, and this is in fact the solution that Mozart shows us in his opera Don Giovanni, and it sometimes seems to me that our debates over assisted suicide and the over the moment of conception show a similar obsession with the moral significance of precise timing.)


No, there is no contradiction here. As the Ghost says, one of the horrors of the king’s death is that he died without confession (“unhouseled, disappointed, unaneled”), and it’s for this precise reason that he is now tortured in purgatory by day, and only allowed to communicate with his son at night:


Doomed for a certain term to walk the night

And for the day confined to fast in fires

Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature

Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid

To tell the secrets of my prison house,

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word

Would harrow up thy soul, freeze they young blook,

Make they two eyes like stars start from their spheres

And each particular hair to stand an end

Like quills upon the fretful porpentine

But this eternal blazon must not be

To ears of flesh and blood!



Blasphemously or not, Hamlet believes that the king’s brother has sent his father to purgatory by simply murdering him without a confession and without the last rites.


Hamlet, who is no theologian but an ordinary moralist like the rest of us, cannot imagine that justice would be served by sending his evil uncle to heaven while his father is still being purged in hell. It is no wonder that Hamlet finds it so hard to carry out the ghost’s instructions even when the means, the leisure, and the opportunity are all given.


I sometimes feel that way about xmca, particularly when I contemplate the enormous amount of reading required to participate intelligently. But one thing we learn from Vygotsky is that intelligence, like procrastination, is sometimes a consequence and not a cause....


David Kellogg

Hankuk University of Foreign Studies


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