Ren runs into Tristram in the corridor.
‘And how are you settling into the job, Ren?’ asks Tristram.
‘It’s rather hectic, but no great complaints so far, other than having to stay up all night writing lectures, and having to do the TITE.’
‘Ah yes, I’ve heard stories about the TITE. Luckily for me I missed out on having to do it. Are you enjoying the company of our delightful departmental Continentalist colleagues?’
‘Who could not fail to be charmed by such illustrious company? The things I have learned from my intellectual betters. Language is not real. The signifier is the presence of an absence. Or is it the absence of a presence? There is nothing outside the text. Deconstruction takes place as the experience of the impossible. I have learned the important Lacanian term “extimacy”, although I cannot for the life of me recall what it means. I’ve learned that a couple of vague lines about semiotics can somehow form the basis for a sweeping denunciation of the global capitalist system. Truly an education. Of a sort.’
‘And this is the great Ren sarcasm, which is already famous? Or at least much complained about. I’ve heard that Verna already wants you out.’
‘Verna? You mean that angry woman with the spiky hair and the broken tooth? I thought she was some sort of council representative, here to keep an eye on the plumbing. What about the great Adelaide?’
‘I don’t think she has deigned to notice you yet. That’s what she’s pretending anyway. She affects not to notice much, which gives her the excuse to genuinely not notice much. But I’m sure she has you filed away under “Minor cockroach” somewhere.’
‘Another great Professor who’s only interested in you if you have a pair of tits.’
‘Have you filled up the shelves in your room yet?’ asks Tristram.
‘Almost. It’s great having so many shelves, I can actually find things now. Hell, it’s great having my own office instead of sharing with twenty other postgrads. I can actually get some work done instead of wasting my powers of concentration on trying to filter out other people’s stupid conversations. Hello.’
A student has tentatively come up to them.
‘Dr York, can I ask you a question about your Philosophy of Mind module?’
‘Of course, ask away,’ says Tristram.
‘I don’t really understand what Dennett’s view of qualia is. You didn’t say much about his view in the last lecture.’
‘Dennett doesn’t believe qualia exist at all. That’s why I’m not going to say much about him.’
‘Not at all?’
‘Not at all.’
‘Well,’ Ren says, ‘some prefer to say that Dennett’s view should be expressed as the view that qualia do exist, but they don’t have many of the properties commonly attributed to them.’
‘Yes, some say that,’ says Tristram, ‘but the fact is that Dennett denies them so many properties that in effect they don’t exist.’
‘What sort of properties?’ says the student, as Ren becomes aware of a slinking sort of motion beside him.
‘Tristram’s rather intolerant today, wouldn’t you say?’ Simon Pastygill semi-whispers into Ren’s ear. ‘Then again, he’s often very intolerant.’
‘Properties like being incorrigible, ineffable, private, and directly accessible,’ says Tristram to the student.
‘You know you said that quite loudly?’ says Ren.
‘He thinks the traditional conception of qualia is incoherent,’ says Tristram.
‘I’ve heard some complaints about Tristram’s interpretation of various philosophers,’ whispers Simon, only slightly softer.
‘Still quite loud,’ says Ren. ‘Anyway, that does seem to be what Dennett thinks. Qualia don’t exist.’
‘I really hate Dennett,’ says Tristram. ‘He doesn’t have any arguments. Just his silly intuition pumps.’
‘I don’t think he can hear me, do you?’ whispers Simon.
‘Isn’t he trying,’ says Ren, ‘to give us a plausible, science-like explanation of consciousness? Whether it’s plausible is another story, but that sort of thing isn’t conducive to the usual deductive argument form.’
‘But that means he skates over various problems,’ says Tristram. ‘What about the sort of objections that Ned Block comes up with? Dennett doesn’t argue back, he just handwaves back, and tells another story.’
‘Perhaps a bit unfair to say that he doesn’t argue back,’ says Ren, ‘although I agree it’s not quite the same sort of rigorous argument that he’s been presented with. He’s saying that those arguments are beside the point.’
‘Which means that he just conveniently ignores the detail,’ says Tristram.
‘Of course, one can overdo detail,’ says Simon, with a pointed look at Tristram.
‘Certainly. Some people’s papers are just a mass of detail with nothing interesting to say about the bigger picture,’ says Tristram, with a pointed look back at Simon.
Simon and Tristram are yet another pair of departmental members who greatly dislike each other. Simon dislikes Tristram because he talks with a plummy voice, has a superior, bemused manner, and because, for all his cleverness, he doesn’t publish much (although, unlike Derek, he does publish sometimes). Tristram dislikes Simon for the same reason as everyone else, because he’s a creepy little cocksucker whose mediocre papers get published in volume because the backwater field he did his PhD in has become hot property recently. And each sees the other as getting dues that should be going to them.
‘Uh, I have to go to a class now,’ lies the student, who’s not sure what’s going on, but who senses the unease and wants to get away.
‘Oh yes, me too,’ lies Ren as well.
‘And me,’ lies Tristram.
‘Looks like it’s just poor old me without a class to go to,’ says Simon. ‘What will I do now that the conversation has ended?’
‘You could go suck your own cock in your office,’ mutters Tristram to Ren as they walk along the corridor.
‘We should be encouraging him out of his bad habits,’ says Ren. ‘Not letting him stay a prisoner of his basest desires.’