A SERIES OF INQ28S: WHAT IMAGISM CAN TEACH US ABOUT THE SHADOW WAR
The early years of the Twentieth Century were a time of growing cities, continuing industrialisation and relentless progress. It was a modern world that required, it was thought, modern forms of art to reflect and express it. And so it was that a nascent group of poets known as the Imagists began to emerge in London, writing in reaction to (and in rejection of) the Romantic poets that had dominated literature since the late 1700s. They argued that the Romantics' work was over-wrought and too elaborate; that their meaning was contorted to fit poetic meter and form, diluted to such an extent as to obscure their expression. The American writer Ezra Pound was a central figurehead of the Imagists, exerting an autocratic control over the movement. He promoted those writers whose work he believed extolled Imagist values, such as Hilda Doolittle ("H.D.") and Richard Aldington; he publicised the work of his "Imagistes" and influenced how Imagism was perceived by others. (Pound would later go on to express admiration for the policies of Adolf Hitler and Mussolini’s fascist Italy, finding himself put on trial for treason against the United States and incarcerated within an insane asylum. But anyway…)
The Imagists took inspiration from, among other places, Japanese verse-forms such as the haiku - powerfully condensed and concentrated images, stripped of poetic artifice and freed from the tyranny of the metronome. Their poems, they thought, expressed images of pure intensity. Perhaps in them, you might see a yearning to find a concise and distilled vocabulary that could adequately describe the modern world as they saw it in that moment.
But hang on -- this is a blog about a narrative wargaming in the Grim Darkness of the Far Future, not a discussion of literary movements in the Twentieth Century. Why are we talking about this? Well, for us fans of Inquisitor and Inq28, there is some useful fodder for consideration. Imagism was a rejection of the past – of forms that did not fit modern life in favour of a renewed imagistic clarity. Perhaps Inquisitor can be thought of as a rejection of a stylised and archetypal 40k universe in favour of dynamic and realised 40k characters.
Inquisitor is distinct from 40k, despite sharing many of the same key concepts, in that it affords us the opportunity to explore what Dan Abnett once called the “domestic side” of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. It’s not about the high-level view of massed battlefields, but about the street-level – furtive cultist summonings, trade deals ending in double-crosses and agents of the Throne fighting the shadow war in the Emperor’s name. Certainly, anyone playing a game such as Inquisitor must have a great affinity towards (and be fascinated by) the Warhammer 40,000 universe. It is bleak (almost absurdly so at times, depending on the level of grimdark you add to taste) and overwhelmingly dystopian. But there is something within it that speaks to us. And each of us in our writing, our artwork or our modelling are searching for a visual language with which to express our reaction to that universe, experiencing that same yearning the Imagists once felt to express what it means to us or perhaps even to give voice to the parts of ourselves we find reflected within it. The themes of the 40k universe can be brought into sharpness and clarity in Inquisitor when we drill down to find characters - characters that are far more defined than those of a Warhammer 40,000 army. In a skirmish game we follow the fortunes of our heroes from a far closer perspective, an "over the shoulder" perspective. We see their successes and their failures first-hand. We are responsible for them and they may even live or die based on the roll of a die – their story may come to a sudden end, or continue. That resonance and significance creates that vivid clarity.
Perhaps inevitably, the Imagists eventually fell into infighting and the sorts of doctrinal disagreements that High Inquisitorial Conclaves would be proud of – Ezra Pound argued furiously with his peers and left to found the similarly short-lived Vorticist movement. At about the same time, the writer Amy Lowell entered, encouraging a shift from Pound’s autocratic iron-fisted control to a more democratic system where writers were able to contribute writing of which they were proud. Pound derisively referred to it as “Amygism” and demanded that they stop using the Imagist name – but it was the carnage of the First World War that would ultimately end the movement. Short-lived as it was (approximately five years, all told), the Imagists had impacted Modernism and left an indelible mark upon the English literary tradition.
Ezra Pound wrote that "[one cannot] learn English, one can only learn a series of Englishes," and this idea of a multiplicity of meaning is something to think of. It is when we find others who share the same common language - others producing models, artwork and writing that speaks to us – that we have the sense that there are others who see the universe in the same way as we do – that we are not alone. That there are kindred spirits with whom we can construct a vocabulary and express ourselves, confident that we can be understood.
Perhaps one might think of that series of Englishes – the series of Imagisms – and the series of Inq28s that we have experienced across the world. To misuse a quote by René Taupin about the Imagists, the Inquisitor community, such as it is, has been an association of hobbyists “who were for a certain time in agreement on a small number of important principles.” We see this in the different gaming groups across the internet – the “Dalthan School” of myself and PDH (et al), the Swedish Enclaves, those who made Pilgrymages to Holy Terra, fought upon the Yggdrasilium, those who entered the Thorn Moons, the plains of the Carrion Pass or the frozen wastes of Gelida. The many, many iterations of INQ28s, Inquisimundas, Kill-Teams and Shadow Wars across the world. Each gaming group speaking a different dialect – possessing a common DNA but evolving separately and in quite unexpected directions. Perhaps once we might have demanded conformity, for gamers to abide by tradition and be dictated to by the rhythm of the metronome. But now with the internet, we can allow these groups to cross-pollenate, to bloom and die and bloom again. We can reach out and find those who speak the same language as us, unencumbered by geographical boundaries, and feel as though in this millennium or a darker one, someone understands us and that we are not alone.