Between Surplus Value and Surplus Enjoyment


One of the well known interpretations of Marx’s notion of surplus value is as the added value produced by labor that essentially haunts the object, that hangs about the object and acts as an index to the discrepancy of social relations between owners and workers. As a aura, surplus value represents the extra labor which is not accounted for in payment, and it is that ‘something special’ which gives items in the capitalistic system their true value.

Perhaps it is too easy to discuss the Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal, as it is formally dubbed, in these terms, yet it is hard to resist. Ashley Alexandra Dupre, or ‘Kristen’ has unsurprisingly been at the center of a mass media frenzy for the past several weeks in regards to her (non)relation to Spitzer.

One must immediately bring up Lacan’s discussion of surplus enjoyment, the strange quality which sets us free to enjoy, the twist of blond hair on Madeline’s head in Vertigo, the patent leather boot in account after account in fetishistic reports reported by Kraft-Ebing and so forth. In both cases we never approach the thing as such – the object of surplus value or the object of surplus enjoyment it is, as Zizek says, always behind our back, directing us towards itself. In Lacanian Ink 15 Zizek writes the following:

“Coke functions as the direct embodiment of “IT,” of the pure surplus of enjoyment over standard satisfactions, of the mysterious and elusive X we are all after in our compulsive consumption of merchandise. The unexpected result of this feature is not that, since Coke does not satisfy any concrete need, we drink it only as a supplement, after some other drink has satisfied our substantial need – it is rather this very superfluous character that makes our thirst for Coke all the more insatiable: as Jacques-Alain Miller put it succinctly, Coke has the paradoxical property that, the more you drink it, the more you get thirsty, the greater the need to drink more of it – with its strange bittersweet taste, our thirst is never effectively quenched. So, when, some years ago, the publicity motto for Coke was “Coke, that’s IT!” we should discern in it the entire ambiguity: “that’s it” precisely insofar as that’s NEVER effectively IT, precisely insofar as every satisfaction opens up a gap of “I want MORE!”

Don’t we see the exact some relation in regards to Spitzer’s Kristen, what we don’t get, the IT, is the sexual act itself, the contours of their encounters in all their sweaty embarrassment. What we get is everything surrounding the object of our desire – the objet petit a, which is the cause and center of surplus enjoyment. Every image which is purportedly innocent aches with a ‘hidden kernel of sexuality’ and each sexualized picture doesn’t go far enough. Our attitude is similar to the racist’s relation to the racial subject – the objective observation of them only feeds bigotry – if the racial subject acts in a way that doesn’t gel with stereotypes it is a conscious act of deceit whereas anything else simply indexes the ‘truth’ of their race on the whole.

Dupre’s music is rapidly consumed as is interview after interview in some attempt to understand what happened through a textually mediated periphery. Even stranger is the heavy use of facebook and myspace, quoted as if the associated press. Here we come back to Marx’s surplus value but diagonally so – surplus value, instead of a social gap, comes in the form of the mediated social itself – in the form of social networking. In a similar construction as viral marketing, hot spots of conglomerated sociality become surplus value themselves – an advertising positive feedback loop.

The non relation, the scandalous, dangerous sex, is circled around indefinitely by the sold social, the rag paper thereby perpetuating the very absence of community – the voided social which, like the psychoanalytic drive, circles endlessly around the IT, the objet petit a, the very cause of the social itself.

4 Responses to “Between Surplus Value and Surplus Enjoyment”

  1. 1 Nathan Franklin

    Excellent post! In the same vein a Planter’s peanut commercial is toying with object a, the IT, in an interesting way as well. The commercial is essentially a montage of a “visually displeasing” looking female (she has a uni-brow)confidently walking the urban streets, where men are throwing themselves at her.

    There is a brief moment in the commercial where the viewer witnesses the object a: the scent of a Planter’s peanut. What we see is the woman rubbing the small nut all over her arms and the nape of her neck–we see IT, but we ultimately have to disavow the IT, in order for us to keep the (sublime) object at bay, at a proper distance (as Zizek would put it)because,to put it in your terms: ‘What we get [instead] is everything surrounding the object of our desire – the objet petit a, which is the cause and center of surplus enjoyment’.

  2. You’re right. BTW,I don’t know how much you like South Park, but as a matter of fact you can find a nice analogy concerning Spitzer’s apology’ in the episode, called Major Boobage.

  3. 3 naughtthought

    I’ve written about South Park in the past – haven’t watched them recently though…they definately have interesting ways of doing social critique though

  1. 1 Alas, Gender…pt. 1 « Naught Thought

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