Something that keeps coming up is how excruciatingly on-the-nose everything is at the moment, how grotesquely and obviously emblematic of the times. It’s all first-year politics course, first draft of an eco-dystopian novel called like “We The Remaining Handful” stuff: that photo of all the private jets lined up in the snow in Davos, that thing about Apple enumerating the ways in which its brand value will be enhanced by the coming climate apocalypse, the eels in the Thames being driven out of their wits by all the cocaine flushed into the river. It’s all a bit much, as the protagonists of “We the Remaining Handful” would no doubt tell you, had these scenes not been ultimately rejected from the final draft for being too laboured as metaphors. It might be even a bit much for non-fiction. Imagine you were writing a story about the the Lehman Brothers Ten Year Anniversary Cocktail Party held in London in September last year, in a secret location that we must assume was close to the river. This is unfortunately also real. It was a real cocktail party attended by hundreds of former bankers who for whatever reason thought it would be a good idea to remind everyone that they caused the financial crisis. Say you were writing this story, and you were casting around for a good opening scene-setter. You’re thinking: “what really spells out absolutely deranged disaster with proliferating consequences? What sends a message of the boys have really fucking done it this time?”
Eels gone wild on cocaine! Poor eels going nuts because of all the cocaine the former bankers at the Lehman Brothers Collapse Anniversary Cocktail Party are still able to afford, because not only were they at least partly responsible for the financial crisis, they suffered no consequences whatsoever. Only the eels felt the consequences, and all the people currently being whittled down to nothing by the effects of the UK’s austerity measures. You would include the eel bit in the beginning of your story and your editor would write back: Hm. Not sure about this eel thing. Source? Consider leaving out altogether? Unfortunately, all of it is real. The fact that “the eels in London are on cocaine” sounds like the title of the lamest book imaginable is just something we have to put up with.
What’s good, then, is when something comes along and genuinely knocks your socks off with its weirdness and its reluctance to be massaged into any sort of wider narrative. Despite being a disorganized person who responds really very badly to routine and structure, I do have a tendency to file things away in clearly marked boxes. Imaginary ones only – I have never labelled a real box correctly. The cocaine eels story goes in the box labelled “Corrupt City Boys Running Rampant Through London’s Financial Sector – 2008 Financial Crisis.” Along with the Davos private jets and “climate disaster will drive iPhone sales through the roof”, it is filed under a wider organizational heading called “Unchecked Greed in General.” I bring these stories out when I am trying to make some kind of point, and they tend to exhaust their appeal quite quickly. There’s always a newer and more apt metaphor for this terrifying and idiotic era. “Grateful” is probably the wrong word, but I would be lying if I said I do not feel at least a bit relieved when a story about a billionaire emerges that does not seem as if it came straight out of a trite but worthy parable about corporate rapaciousness. This is not about redemption – these people are irredeemable. It’s more just that, as a person who likes to put things in boxes and then talk about them a lot, it’s a relief to be reminded that the world is a profoundly inscrutable place and that language is no match for the mystery of human nature. I am speaking, obviously, of Jack Dorsey’s story about Mark Zuckerberg killing a goat with a stun gun. It’s one of the worst things I’ve ever encountered, and so, so, so, so funny, and so terrible, and I don’t know what any of it means.
Just as a collection of words on a page, it is from another dimension altogether:
“A stun gun. They stun it, and then he knifed it. Then they send it to a butcher. Evidently in Palo Alto there’s a rule or regulation that you can have six livestock on any lot of land, so he had six goats at the time. I go, “We’re eating the goat you killed?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Have you eaten goat before?” He’s like, “Yeah, I love it.” I’m like, “What else are we having?” “Salad.” I said, “Where is the goat?” “It’s in the oven.” Then we waited for about 30 minutes. He’s like, “I think it’s done now.” We go in the dining room. He puts the goat down. It was cold. That was memorable. I don’t know if it went back in the oven. I just ate my salad.”
The shortness of the sentences. The mystery circulating around the word “they.” “They stun it.” The fact that he felt the need to provide the thoroughly unnecessary information about the by-laws in Palto Alto regarding “livestock.” The fact that he remembered that it was “six livestock.” The fact that he knew the goat was cold, but didn’t know anything about what happened after that because he was too busy with his salad. Going into some quite specific detail about Palo Alto by-laws but not saying what kind of salad. Who is “they”? Why did he have to clarify with Mark Zuckerberg about “eating the goat he killed.” Were they having a general conversation earlier about Mark Zuckerberg needing to kill goats with a stun gun and then as they sat down to eat dinner Jack Dorsey was like “HANG ON – this isn’t that goat you killed earlier is it????” Why would he not have made the connection himself. Did he not eat it because it was cold, or because he didn’t want to eat a goat that had been dispatched via stun gun, or because he didn’t want to eat a goat full stop. No answers.
The interviewer immediately says what it has taken me all this time to say: “It’s hard to find a metaphor in that.” It is hard. It’s hard to make any kind of meaning out of it at all.
Jack Dorsey quickly goes back to talking like a teenage robot, saying things about “fully realizing the medium of streaming” and some weird stuff about who his favourite character in the Wizard of Oz is. It can be filed somewhere under the “Unchecked Greed In General” folder, and maybe there is something there about him thinking it was a good idea to say his favourite character in the Wizard of Oz was the wizard, aka the character who kept the populace in check by lying about the nature of his reach and influence and power, but the shelf-life on that isn’t great. Really there is only the one story there – the one that makes no sense and which I will be thinking about for a long time. Right now the information is skipping around my mind, sort of like how a happy little goat would skip if it had the good fortune to be beyond the reach of any of Mark Zuckerberg’s stun guns.