THE LETTER 21 (Spring 2001) pages 52-54
‘From ‘Mehnvert’ to ‘plus-value’ and back …’: this rather enigmatic title of Gerry Sullivan’s contribution suggests a relation between the Mehnvert or surplus value of Marx and the plus-de-jouir or surplus puissance of Lacan.
On the one hand we know that Lacan’s plus-de-jouir is, among other things, a conceptualisation of Freud’s idea of the Lustgewinn – this Lustgezvinn being the pleasure liberated by a joke when, for a moment, we may drop our lifelong sustained effort at repression. We could say this is a free pleasure, a pleasure that costs nothing.
On the other hand, there’s this intriguing remark on the Mehnvert by Lacan, in his sixteenth Seminar D’un Autre a Vautre, precisely in the year 1968. There Lacan recalls how Marx, at one of the ‘fertile moments’ of his discovery of the Mehnvert, had been struck by the laughter of the capitalist. Indeed, according to Marx’s dialectical experience the capitalist master cannot help laughing when, trying to justify what he’s doing, he succeeds in hiding that he’s putting into his own private pocket the Mehnvert produced by the slaves of the working class. This laughter provoked by the hidden possession of this Mehnvert also seems to correspond to a pleasure that costs nothing. And maybe in its own way, and on its own level, this free pleasure of the capitalist Mehnvert is also the result of a kind of joke, in this case a huge economic joke. Of course, I am not saying that the economy is a joke. I only say that it is structured like a joke, that it has the economy of a joke if I may say so. However this may be, for Lacan this quasi-maniacal laughter of the master is the sign of his avoidance of the object little (a) – or the avoidance of a pleasure that costs too much, what Lacan calls puissance.
Now, with this idea of the unpaid for pleasure of Marx’ Mehnvert and…