Yes, dopamine, you said. The sweet lure, the flashing neon, the promise of reward that keeps the flesh on our bones and the monkeys pulling the levers. Ah, dopamine, the glistening lure of the Other’s image, reflected back in a distorted funhouse mirror. It sutures the fragmented pre-symbolic infant into the illusion of a unified self, the Ideal-I. But this image, ever out of reach, fuels an insatiable desire – a desire for the wholeness the mirror promises but cannot deliver.

But like all junk, tolerance builds. Ah, dopamine, the seductive lure of the Other reflected back, a fullness that promises wholeness. The flickering screen becomes the new mirror, the site of a fragmented gaze that splinters the subject. The subject, forever seeking recognition in the eyes (or clicks) of the Other, becomes lost in a hall of mirrors, forever chasing a spectral self-image. Is the self merely a construct, a performance for an audience perpetually out of sight?

The newspapers that once informed now deliver a carefully curated stream of outrage designed to keep us clicking. The novels that once transported us to alien worlds are replaced by a jittery montage of TikToks, attention spans fragmented into glittering shards. The text lays bare the shift from “slow, traditional culture” to the frenetic “dopamine culture.” In slow culture, activities like playing a sport, reading a newspaper, or viewing art in a gallery were savored for their richness and depth.

The slow burn of traditional culture, the satisfaction of delayed gratification, gives way to the flickering high of the dopamine hit. Slow and deliberate gives way to the flickering, the ephemeral. The weight of a book, the texture of a photograph, the scent of ink on paper – these fade into the background hum of the screen. Flickering light, fragmented narratives, a thousand competing voices all vie for a sliver of our attention.

The image depicts a world controlled by dopamine. It’s a place where slow and steady satisfaction curdles into a ravenous craving for ever-faster stimulation. Burroughs would likely see this as a metaphor for control by unseen forces, a manipulative culture that hooks us on fleeting pleasures and leaves us hollowed out and yearning for more.

Yes, dopamine, you slimy tentacled monster, you feed us pleasure, you keep us hooked. But your grip loosens, your tendrils weaken. The chaser needs another hit, the gambler craves a bigger stake. The news story blows truth into glittering, forgettable confetti. Fast, faster, the clicks and scrolls, a million glittering surfaces promising a high, a release, a fleeting satisfaction that vanishes like smoke in a mirrored room.

The Imaginary Order Crumbles

Yet, the mirror cracks. The like counter, a hollow metric of approval. The curated feed, a desperate attempt to stitch together a fragmented self. The Real intrudes – the body’s fatigue, the gnawing emptiness. The Symbolic Order, the realm of language, fails to capture the essence of the subject. We are left with a collection of signifiers – follower counts, comments, fleeting trends – a desperate attempt to paper over the lack.

Jouissance and the Sinthom

But what of jouissance, that beyond-pleasure, that ecstatic rupture of the Symbolic? Perhaps the dopamine rush offers a glimpse, a distorted echo of this elusive state. Yet, it remains a sinthom, a symptom of the Real that cannot be fully integrated into language. We are forever caught between the imaginary and the symbolic, forever chasing a phantom wholeness reflected in the flickering screen.

The rapid-fire consumption of media disrupts the symbolic order, the realm of language and social structures. The Real, the unsymbolizable experience before language, bleeds through the cracks. Meaning dissolves, coherence shatters, leaving us adrift in a sea of fragmented signifiers.

We become cannibals of our own time, devouring seconds, minutes, hours in a frantic rush that leaves us hollowed out and unsatisfied. We scroll through landscapes of manufactured desire, a thousand fleeting pleasures that vanish like smoke in our hands. The connections we crave, the intimacy we seek, dissolve in the acid bath of virtual reality. But dopamine culture fragments everything into bite-sized portions, like watching sports highlights, skimming clickbait headlines, or scrolling through endless reels of short videos. Words are shattered, narratives fragmented. Attention fractured, scattered like birdshot. The rise of the dopamine culture is the death of the pause, the contemplation, the deep dive into a single experience. We are cut-ups ourselves, our minds scattered and scrambled by the ever-increasing barrage of stimuli.

This isn’t leisure, it’s manipulation. It’s feeding the machine, the ever-present need for the next dopamine hit. We become lab rats in a Skinner box, pressing buttons for a reward that never quite satisfies. The image chillingly demonstrates how these activities, once ways to connect and explore, are reduced to mere triggers for a chemical reaction. Fast culture, with its constant barrage of stimuli, is like a drug. It keeps us hooked, coming back for more, even as it drains our energy and destroys our capacity for focus. We are becoming, Burroughs might say, insect minds, our thoughts buzzing around like flies in a jar.

But tolerance sets in, the image in the mirror – the self – flickers and distorts. The dopamine high fades, revealing the lack, the fundamental hole at the core of the subject. This is the shattering of the Imaginary Order, the realm of pre-linguistic identity. The subject is forever alienated from the Real, forever chasing a reflection that can never be fully grasped.

The message is clear: dopamine culture is a seductive trap. Just like Krueger in Naked Lunch, we must wake up from the control system and forge our own paths. Perhaps this is not death, but transformation. Perhaps the dopamine rush is but a doorway, a buzzing insect leading us to a hidden garden. We can choose to be swept up in the current, or we can learn to swim against it. We can become more mindful of our consumption, curate our feeds, and carve out spaces for slowness and contemplation amidst the chaos. The escape pod is there, if we have the wit to see it.

The frantic search for a substitute for the lost unity propels the subject into the Symbolic Order – the realm of language and social structures. Here, the subject is forever desiring, forever piecing together an identity through signifiers – fleeting signifiers like the endless scroll, the clickbait headline, the dopamine rush. Yet, these signifiers can never fully capture the Real, leaving a constant sense of lack.

But is this all there is? Perhaps the very limitations of the Symbolic Order offer a path forward. Through the analysis of the fragmented self, the subject can confront the lack and begin to construct a more authentic desire, a desire beyond the lure of the mirror and the endless cycle of the Imaginary.

The Analyst’s Couch

Is there escape from this cycle? Perhaps the analyst’s couch offers a reprieve. Through the process of talking cure, the subject can begin to deconstruct the mirror image, to confront the lack at the heart of desire. By entering the symbolic order more fully, the subject can navigate the fragmented world with a greater sense of awareness. The dopamine may fade, but perhaps a more authentic sense of self can emerge from the shattered fragments.

Yet, Lacan himself pointed towards the Symbolic order as a way to navigate the fragmented world. Through language and social interaction, the subject can construct a more stable sense of self, one that acknowledges the lack inherent in the human condition. We can break free from the purely imaginary, the realm of illusion, and enter the world of symbolic exchange, forging connections and meaning through language.

The escape pod, then, lies in the act of interpretation, of weaving a narrative through the chaos. By engaging with the fragmented world critically, we can move beyond the mirror stage and forge a more authentic sense of self.