Stanislava Mogileva: Doing Perfectly Nothing Imperfectly

Stanislava Mogileva

This text about quarantine life by the poet Stanislava Mogileva made me weep with spiritual feeling (umilenie).

[24.05.20 17:42]

how to do nothing imperfectly and, what is most important, perfectly nothing,* nothing faster, better, with higher quality, more effectively or interestingly. nothing is the only important thing, besides nothing there is nothing else. the lurid blood of festivals and the tough meat of days of the week have ended, but there remain the sugary pits of dates, numbers. what remains, as usual, is what there was before the imagined excess. the flow, become invisible and insensible, hasn’t been interrupted so long as to stop completely. beyond the limit it’s clean, empty, and not lonely at all, me alone,* it turns out, is completely enough. not too much and not too little—just right, just as much as possible so as not to carry off, not take, not grab, and not saddle. I am lying on the couch, I can’t get up from the couch, and I don’t get up, and this is wonderful. bring me a coffee and a sandwich, my little son. do you know how to make coffee? there’s no cheese and sausage in the house? then give me bread and water. you’ve already learned how to turn on the faucet and open the breadbox, right? excellent, bring it then. good morning.

* “как можно быстрее […] не делать и, главное, не сделать ничего.” I have added the words “imperfectly” and “perfectly” to compensate for the lack of verbal aspect (imperfective and perfective) in English. This is a word-by-word rendition: “how possible faster, better, higher quality, more effectively and interestingly not do [imp.] and, important [nom. adj.], not do [perf.] nothing.” The best (indeed, sublime) discussion of Russian verbal aspect is Boris Gasparov, “Notes on the ‘Metaphysics’ of Russian Aspect,” which tragically doesn’t seem to be online.

* This is the only place in the text that indicates the speaker’s gender as feminine. Since Russian is typically swimming in gendered inflections, this is worth noting.

My readerly associations with this text are overflowing, but let me just say that Mogileva has two sons (4 and 6), as do I (8 and 14), and her text really captured something for me about how, amid all the horrors and traumatizing effects of the corona crisis, my boys are adapting to (evolving/devolving through) the new “idleness” and, I think, doing very well. Suddenly, I see the release of a blocked emergence and independence. And it is helping me unlearn everything I was ever taught about parenting.

Fetch your mom a coffee, my little son. She’s writing a text.

For the original text in Russian and more, see Mogileva’s Telegram channel.

Translation and commentary by Joan Brooks. If you would like to support Stanislava Mogileva’s work, please consider donating. Any amount helps. Please include “stanislava mogileva” in the memo line of your contribution.

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