Stendhal-Bomb

Fan Dango
Image from John B

An unusual memetic instrument, most often utilized against baseline and nearbaseline human populations. A typical Stendhal-bomb would be a piece of art (images, sculpted monuments, music and sudden flourishes of natural beauty have all been used, among others) that is precisely tuned to the individual target or target group to elicit an extreme and overwhelming sense of emotion, often awe, joy, intrigue or spiritual epiphany (or a combination thereof), to the point that it triggers nausea, violent seizures, paralysis and/or unconsciousness. Certain attacks have caused death, although this has seemingly not always been intentional.

It is known that some amount of psychological preparation must be carried out upon the target group beforehand to make the Stendhal-bomb effective, usually covertly and/or extremely subtly. The name derives from a syndrome described in pre-spaceflight era Europe which had been believed, at the time, to be a true psychosomatic response to overwhelming beauty, but since discovered to be a subconscious reaction to specific memetic conditioning (one indication was a heightened susceptibility in art students). The amount of complex memegineering required to make an attack effective against a large population means that modosophonts are only believed to be capable of targeting very small groups or individuals. Transapients are naturally able to employ the technique to much greater effect, in proportion to their toposophic classification, and the potential range and potency of such an attack against larger and more diverse populations is unknown.

Several widely regarded and popular artistic works and collections actually originated as Stendhal-bombs and many artists have found their masterpieces hijacked and used as weapons of war. Attacks of this type have proved difficult to regulate and defend against due to fears it would stifle the freedom and ambition of artists, especially as the emotional responses used by Stendhal-bombs are also those that many artists yearn to bring forth in their audience. The prior conditioning, especially that carried out by transapients, is often so subtle and the memes so effectively hidden within the community consciousness that they are often not identified for many years; occasionally remaining undiscovered until an artwork emerges and unintentionally disables a high proportion of a population. The various monitoring agencies in sephirotic art communities, including those transapients openly concerned with such matters, and the occasional high profile prosecutions they initiate against artists suspected of intentionally producing weapons, are the subject of much controversy.

Naturally, as is the case with many other vaguely identified transapient techniques, many conspiracy theories have emerged regarding Stendhal-bombs. Several art theorists have speculated that one or more of the Archailects (or some other unknown agency) may have spread the prerequisite conditioning for Stendhal susceptibility far wider than any previously known examples, even crossing clades, species and entire empires. Many paranoids and "art-pocalypse" groups have speculated that the trigger for such a wide-reaching attack would likely be an artefact of incredible novelty. There were many protests by such groups warning against the close inspection of artefacts of a mysterious origin, including the Omicron Hygeras Object and Oceanus Ultimata, but fortunately there were no hidden "Stendhal"-type attacks. Similar concerns surround the Technorapture Hypernation's reports of the Semblance of Eternity, although the innate curiosity of Terragen Civilisation almost certainly means that caution will be thrown to the wind.

 
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Development Notes
Text by Graham Hopgood

Initially published on 24 February 2010.