An extract from Jen Calleja’s novel, Vehicle, published by Prototype on 8 February 2023.
MOSES PERFORMS THE WELCOME SPEECH GIVEN BY THE DIRECTOR OF THE INSTITUTE OF TRANSMISSION FROM MEMORY FROM THE BACK OF THE VAN
As this is exam week for our students, we wanted to gather you, friends of the Institute, in anticipation of the new school year. The Institute is like a thrumming walled citadel, a contained, but volatile cosmos, many of our students start shipwrecked, we offer them a life raft, not back to dry land, but to a spectacular, stimulating desert island.
Isolated. Clean. Safe. A private learning environment in which one must take risks to thrive, thrash to the top, not simply rise, nor float; be thick cream, not collapsing froth!
We see their potential, we give them tools, teach them to use them; we fish out the talents just beneath the surface, we warm them up, wind them up, whip them up, then let them go into the world as agents of change.
Funding removed for the study of languages, linguistics, creative arts, media studies, down to negative and derisive public opinion (stimulated, naturally, by governmental propaganda – too hard! too soft!) humanities unanimously written off as worthless it was the perfect opportunity for the Institute to be founded.
Shortly thereafter, with foreign languages banned to prevent clandestineness, discomfort, muddle, the burgeoning internet infrastructure collapsed to stop disinformation and penetrable walls. Unqualified writers, artists, practitioners blocked from publishing, performing and exhibiting for ‘quality purposes’.
We became supreme. We train up agents who find themselves running free through an era of weakened resistance.
The practices of persuasion and coercion are the most powerful, painless weapons at home and abroad. We specialise in the honing of unassuming but highly influential figures such as:
poets, writers, journalists, artmakers, policy makers, rhetoricians, spokespeople, Narratologists, spin doctors, speech writers, diplomats, psychotherapists, curators, Semioticians, architects, cultural institute directors, parents, political cartoonists, confidantes, mentors, actors, motivational speakers, film directors, graphic designers, comic book artists, advertising creatives, agony aunts and uncles, lecturers, conceptual and fine artists, translators and interpreters, nursery and primary education workers, politicians, hypnotists, writers for TV and radio, and new best friends.
Citizens don’t hear speeches anymore, their brains register them as lies. Political influence must be fed drip drip drip in adverts, films, public conversations, through family members.
They have to think they have come to conclusions all by themselves.
Once research shows a policy or thought is sticking the prime minister simply says the very thing people believed they believed.
We’re looking for an I’m glad I thought of that response. An obviously this is how it has to be sentiment. The as I’ve always said affirmation.
We seek those who can effortlessly influence. They might have to change the direction of a literary scene, or infiltrate a terrorist block. We infiltrate.
Place our agents’ poems, paintings, pop songs, spreading their presence across the country to spark tide turning. They act as rudders and oars and sails.
And not just placement, but extraction; our students learn how to get people to reveal all, speedy methods to bond, to form trust, to get close, to gently urge a dropping of barriers, to have strangers willingly gift their very selves within minutes.
Our student profile has changed in recent years: less prepped and slick with confidence, more raw protégées with invaluable life experience, skills in flexibility, survival, surreptitious operations, code-switching, getting things done with a naturalness and lack of ego that can’t be taught. Those who have lived many lives in their few short years, seeking direction and mentorship, companionship in their orphanhood, disownment, estrangement, forced or chosen exile. Those for whom traumatic and stressful occurrences were commonplace, who are not easily thrown by the dramatic or extreme. Those who are often underestimated, made invisible, never truly seen.
We encourage a competitive spirit, something else they’re used to. We blow up copies of student assignments and paste them up in corridors, encourage scrawling of critique for all to see. We like physical scuffles, intellectual brawling, the corridors a battleground of wits and split lips. Each achievement results in a patch to be sewn to one’s school sash, badges of honour to complement the minor hallway battle scars, building up of skills, building up of tolerances; we tell our students: be rigorous, meticulous, frolic, cavort!
We welcome you, funders of our new covert cohort! Join us in our school motto!
Keep being who your parents know and love!
Keep the world the place your parents know and love! Do it for them! The steady course!
Your generosity gives a young person a second chance and in turn protects the status quo.