This paper inquires into a dynamics that supposedly drives knowledge production in contemporary society, and more specifically in post-industrial settings which are geared towards the production and the promotion of enjoyable experiences. The analysis takes its starting point in Daniel Bell’s writings on the post-industrial society and on cultural contradictions of capitalism from the early seventies (Bell, 1972/1999; 1973). Reviewing how value creation stands in relation to knowledge in Bell’s work, the essay first takes to problematizing Bell’s conception, before recovering some observations that indeed do appear to hold some significance after nearly 40 years. These observations are related to what Slavoj Žižek (2000: 25) has termed a ‘culturalization of the market economy itself’, and raise important questions about how the knowledge-value nexus may be constituted in such economic developments.
Working from the assumption that the promises promoted by contemporary marketing programs cannot but fail to deliver, due to their purposive play on unsatisfiable desires, it inquires into the dynamics of value production which follows from such a structural incongruity. In this dynamics, enthusiastic amateurs who engage in the creation, the production, or indeed the staging of the various experiences, in attempts to make them correspond to lofty expectations, become a most central component. A component whose knowledge production—i.e., the knowledge acquired and refined through enthusiastic involvement – may be understood as an excessive element that is difficult, if not impossible, to tame or control, and which thereby possesses an inherent power to dislocate the material base of economic value production. In this sense, this dilettante, excessive knowledge could be said to make out a bone in the throat for late-capitalist dynamics; an inherent impossibility which contributes to capitalist production revolutionizing its own conditions.
In an attempt to theorize the dynamics which drives the activity and the work through which such dilettante knowledge is being generated, the paper accounts for the affinity between Marx’s notion of surplus value and Lacan’s notion of surplus enjoyment. Elaborating on how Lacan modeled the notion of surplus enjoyment upon Marx’s thinking on value, the paper goes on to explore how the effects following from an increased production and promotion of enjoyment in contemporary society, could be said to make out an inherent limit of Capital in post-industrial settings—in a similar way as the usurpation of surplus value made out an inherent limit of Capital in Marx’s writings.