Force and Flow — The Aspects aren’t the only Existential Duality at play in Classpects. A Class Masterpost
So I’ve come to realize I view the Classes in Homestuck’s Classpect system pretty differently from many, and that there’s a lot of varied information going around about them in general.
The broad consensus is that although we know some things, Homestuck just doesn’t flesh out the system well enough for us to know what every Class does, how they function, or how they pair up together.
This is even true among those of us passionate about Classpects, as while many of us draw thematic implications from the text to inform our view of the Classes, the consensus is that there’s not much explicit information for a few of them — such as Mages, for example.
I’m here to argue differently.
This post is a presentation for how I think every Class in Homestuck works, and how the Class system works in and of itself. There’ll be no direct Aspect discussion here. I will be referencing the canon heavily, though — pointing out parallels, consistent motifs, and allusions that make my point.
My interpretation of the Classes is mostly iterative from what’s come before — That is to say, I’m refining and retooling stuff I’ve read from various different sources like BKEW, Dahni, and Tex Talks while also adding context and exposition of my own. I’m not trying to revolutionize the entire model of how we understand Classes so far.
I’ll be suggesting some changes, but my main argument is in favor of a comprehensive approach to understanding of how all the Classes work, and what they represent in this hyperflexible system.
Without further ado, then.
The Active/Passive Dichotomy
The definitions I use to describe the classes are the definitions Calliope gives us in her expository conversations with Roxy and Dirk. I know some people doubt the veracity of those statements, but the only part of the system I see reason to doubt is Calliope’s statement about gender distributions for Classes, the rationale for which I go into in this post.
There’s good reason to think Calliope is right about the rest of it. Namely because like the Aspects, the way Calliope describes Classes suggests a familiar interplay of complementary existential forces. An interplay we’ve seen in Homestuck before, even outside of the dichotomous pairings of the Aspects.
The Daoist concept of the Yin-Yang. This is a concept far too broad and complex for me to effectively break down completely here — I really suggest watching this video before continuing — but the gist is that Yin and Yang are complementary juxtaposed forces, both of which are necessary in shaping reality.
In Tao philosophy, the Yang force —the White swirl with the black dot— is active, forceful and energetic. The Yin force — the Black swirl with the white dot — is passive, conforming and stable.
In this image, Rose is the Yang force — Actively forcing her needles into an Ogre’s eyes, then turning her threads into a harness and riding it. The Ogre is the Yin force — the Passive entity being stabbed into and then ridden upon.
A perhaps more relatable but less colorful, inspiring, and hilarious way to understand this (God I love Rose) is with a simple game of Catch.
A pitcher throwing a ball is Yang
while the catcher receiving it is Yin.
And the game of Catch cannot exist without both elements present.
If this is starting to sound like the distinction Callie draws between Princes and Bards, well — it should:
Because even the Active/Passive terminology the Classes use seems to be derived from common Yin/Yang terminology.
(NOTE: Interestingly, although Calliope does link Passive classes to femininity and Active classes to masculinity (through Muses and Lords), lining up the ideas as presented in Homestuck with their underlying Yin/Yang interpretations, the +/- distinction is flipped. The Active classes are denoted with -, and the Passive ones with +. No idea what that means, but I thought it worth noting.)
So in terms of how to parse the key verbs, the Active/Passive classes correlate perfectly to the Yin/Yang dichotomy. But that’s not the end of it, since Calliope gives us two definitions for what the Active/Passive distinction means. Her second definition is where she posits that Active classes exploit their aspect to benefit themselves, while passive classes allow their aspect to benefit others.
However, Calliope herself says the distinction means a lot of things, and that this is only a starting point for understanding the dichotomy. Let’s take the time to define what, exactly, a dichotomy is in the context of Homestuck.
A dichotomy is often described as a set of mutually exclusive elements that make up a larger whole. This is true of Yin-Yang, as it is composed of forces that are mutually exclusive and in tension with one another.
And yet, a key feature of Yin-Yang is that each force contains the seed of its complement, and indeed objects that are at one time Yin (such as a hill cast in shadow), will eventually become Yang (such as a hill lit by sunlight) and vice versa.
In other words, Callie is describing a system similar to the Aspect pairs we’re well-acquainted with. The Classes, like the Aspects, are meant to describe an existential dichotomy. And so the Classes, like the Aspects, are hyperflexible and broad enough to incorporate practically any way you can interact with reality imaginable.
This isn’t particularly new information — plenty of people think so about the Aspects, and many do about the Classes as well. But because of this element of duality and juxtaposition, we now have thematic and philosophical grounding for it.
An additional claim I’m building from this is that the Class pairs are grouped not just into Active/Passive pairs, but grouped yet again on top of that with an existentially complementary Key Verb pair.
From now on in this text, when not speaking about a specific class with a specific verb, I’ll use the word “Exploit” to players using their Aspect knowingly, for their own purpose. Conversely, I’ll use “Allow” for any instance of an Aspect acting through the character, as if with a will of it’s own.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s use the dictionary definitions of Exploit and Allow, as well:
Exploit: make full use of and derive benefit from (a resource).
synonyms:utilize, harness, use, make use of,
So in relation to an Aspect, to Exploit means that a character directly uses their aspect like a resource — the player’s will acts as a Yang force on reality, manifesting itself through the Aspect. This implies conscious thought towards a pre-determined goal, the player premeditating how they want to proceed and then using their Aspect as a tool to accomplish their goal.
To Allow means that a character gives the Aspect permission to act on reality, and as Calliope implies, without necessarily being aware of it. In this case, the Player acts as a Yin force on reality, reacting to the “will of the Aspect” — the Aspect’s will manifesting itself through the Player. In this case, it’s almost as though the Player were the tool employed by the Aspect.
Finally, Callie posits that some classes are more passive or active than others — meaning there is a spectrum ranging from most Active to most Passive.
From all this, we can draw a number of possibilities that can influence how we read any given class’ execution. I am going to make the following claims, which I will provide evidence for across this series:
1. A Passive class may not always act for the benefit of others, nor will an Active class always act for their own benefit.
2. An Active class may at times allow their Aspect to act through them, and a Passive class may at times exploit their Aspect for a known purpose.
3. These two truths are separate and unlinked — that is to say, an Active class may end up allowing their Aspect to benefit themselves in some situations, and conversely a Passive class may exploit their aspect to benefit others.
But if this is true, then the Classes are kind of hopelessly complicated, aren’t they? It’d be literally impossible to determine whether we should read Classes as Active or Passive, because in even the most extreme cases they could seem to be both! The system is broken!
But not so fast, dear reader.
My smug furry scholar plans beg to differ.
The first is a way to determine whether a class is primarily Active or Passive.
I believe the Class system describes the terms in which
the Players tend to think about the world, and in this case refers to a particular division:
Selfishness vs. Selflessness.
The comic refers to the characters in these terms frequently, and as far as I can tell it always matches the player’s active/passive status. Other times different terminology is used to convey the same effect, and other times still one can derive a character’s priorities from their actions. I will be including all of these styles of reference throughout each post in this series.
There’s no moral connotation here, however. One way to think about it is that Active players tend to do things based on their own wants and thoughts — being more self-absorbed and self-directed. Passive players tend to be more reactive and group-oriented thinkers.
So, representative of Yang and Yin, respectively. Only instead of being Yang or Yin to some physical force, the Selfish vs. Selfless distinction describes whether players are innately (but not exclusively) Yang or Yin in their relationships with other people’s wills.
Being self-directed and motivated makes Active players quicker and effective at taking direct action, but being group-oriented and reactive makes Passive players more communicative and steady. We’ll explore the Selfish/Selfless distinction more as we go through the class pairs.
The second trend will help us figure out what Classes share a key verb, and what that verb is, exactly.
Homestuck sets up unifying mythological figures for every Active/Passive pair except the Destroy and Steal classes, which Calliope gives us as freebies. These figures connect the two classes, and tend to imply things about the nature of the classes themselves — cementing and giving context for their key verbs’, and the nuances of their potential meanings.
I’ll also include a number of sub-definitions for the key verbs that are either popular in fandom or seem to add nuance to the class to me — just to note them as interpretations that I feel fit comfortably inside the umbrella terms that canon presents.
So before we move on to the rest of the Classes, you might still have questions. For example, why do I prioritize the “Benefit Oneself” vs. “Benefit Others” distinction over the “Exploit” and “Allow” distinction Callie gives us when it comes to determining what classes are Active and which are Passive?
And a Unifying Myth is an awfully abstract concept. What exactly do I mean?
So let’s take a crack at decoding some relatively easy classes with Canon context, so we can then tackle the more nuanced and complicated ones.
Let’s talk about the Master Classes: Lord and Muse.
Key Verb: Command
Copacetic Sub-Verbs: Inspire, Rule, Embody, Demand
Unifying Myth: Conductor
I’m going to be somewhat sparse here, because talking about the Master classes in any real depth means talking about the ending, and we don’t want to get sidetracked.
Luckily, This one’s pretty simple and obvious, comparatively speaking.
A conductor is one who orchestrates a symphony, one who directs various musicians into playing a cohesive musical whole.
And a Symphony is exactly the root of what Homestuck, as a story that is presented to us, is. It is the combined story of a massive, varied cast of characters — or, if you believe Dave (I do), People — rendered instead into Instruments by the staggering, demanding complexity of the time loop required to bring Lord English into being in the Masterpiece.
The first two Act Titles are explicit orchestral references for good reason. Calliope and Caliborn are the only characters to take hold of the Conductor Baton — Calliope because it’s her main tool of trade, and Caliborn because he takes it for himself (which we’ll come back to).
Ah, which, reminds me.
There is one other character who uses a baton. That guy.
This particular Unifying Myth is unique, in that instead of being sourced in a long-standing mythical or historical figure that serves as a sort of Jungian Archetype, both of our Master Classes have a direct example of the myth of the Conductor to relate to and draw upon:
Hussie himself, the metatextual Conductor who directs Homestuck.
And both Cherub’s relationships to Hussie reflect their relationships to Homestuck’s wider themes, as well as the way they execute their Classpect roles.
Calliope never interacts with Hussie directly. Instead, she draws her inspiration directly from the Symphony he conducts. Calliope knows Hussie only through the world he leaves behind, and that Calliope is the one who innately holds a Conductor’s Baton says a lot about where creative power comes from in Homestuck.
Calliope learns how to be a Conductor by analyzing, deconstructing, and loving a Symphony as she experiences it — by engaging with art and allowing herself to be inspired by it. This inspiration grows to Command her, as she desires to involve herself in the story and have an active hand in shaping how it plays out.
Caliborn, in contrast, doesn’t care about art or creative power at all. Instead, his relationship to Hussie is much more direct — he Commands him.
Caliborn gets to meet Hussie, directly.
And as with everyone else in Homestuck, Caliborn is able to expect that Hussie will ultimately aid him in reaching his birthright — dominion over the story of Homestuck itself, as his Alpha Timeline ultimately defines it.
This reaches it’s obvious conclusion when he kills Hussie, taking the Conductor’s Baton for himself.
A Conductor’s Baton that he then wields in Caliborn: Enter, as he begins literally performing the role he was already circumstantially performing all along: Forcing the death of all the different doomed versions of the characters who failed to comply with the timeline that brings him into being.
But remember, even here, Lord English isn’t the sole conductor.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
At this point I should confess I can’t take the credit for this insight — I’m pretty much just going to recap this absolutely incredible Reddit comment, sourced to one yuei2 who’s hand I want to shake and possibly slip a ring on, good God.
I heavily suggest you just read it in all it’s glory, but the basic gist is this:
Lord English’s hunt for Alt!Calliope outlines the shape of the circle that is Homestuck’s entire story, but Lord English is only arguably the root of it.
By allowing herself to die and appearing in the Void, Alt!Calliope inspires Lord English to hunt her in the first place.
In fact, her very existence Commands it of him — through his sheer desire to destroy and his loathing for his sister, the very idea of either Calliope existing in the bubbles becomes an imperative he cannot ignore — thus dooming him to acting out his own circular time loop.
As such, Alt!Calliope is every bit as responsible for shaping every single bit of the story as Lord English himself is. Just like Caliborn decides to force himself into being by Time, Calliope is forced by the circumstances of Space to become responsible for literally everything that ever happens, even if it has to be retroactively.
And Alpha Calliope herself exerts a similar weight in the story, albeit through different vectors. She’s credited with connecting the Alpha kids, thus setting the stage for their entire session.
But not only that, she’s also the source of Jake’s desire to complete his own project — the Bunny that ultimately shaped the Beta kids’ entire session.
Both of the kid’s sessions are put into motion by someone following Calliope’s direction.
And on top of that, Calliope’s fascination with trolls leads to Caliborn’s hatred of them, and ultimately, to Lord English’s vicious exploitation of them across both universes! Because of this, Calliope is Passively responsible for the entirety of both of the trolls’ sessions as well — just as Lord English is.
This is why I choose the verb Command for Lord and Muse.
A Lord commands through orders. A Muse commands through inspiration.
But ultimately, both are very demanding things. And while there are plenty of other words that could fit the bill, Commands are the name given to the single most important element of the story:
The arrow command. Using the key verb “Command” gives us a direct, canonical, explicit basis to say that Caliborn and Calliope’s influence can be felt in every single part of every single page of this story. It is their wills, together, that form the spine of Homestuck, tying all the other character’s wills together into a single unified thread. Through desire or force.
Now, the Key Verb and Unifying Myth laid out, let me wrap up by answering the question:
Why is Selfishness vs. Selflessness the determining factor in the Active/Passive distinction? Why not Calliope’s alternate definition,
Exploit vs. Allow?
And the answer is, well:
Lord and Muse are explicitly the Most Active and Most Passive classes on the scale. Which means that, taken to their logical extremes, you would expect a Muse to only Allow their Aspect to flow through them.
Yet, we see very clearly that despite Allowing Space —( in this case, Space being the setting of the story of Homestuck) — for almost the entirely of her existence by staying in the bubbles, Alt!Calliope is deliberate and concious about how she uses her Aspect when she creates the Black Hole.
This is much more in line with Exploitation than with Allowance, going off the dictionary definitions, as well as the definitions Calliope gives.
At the very least, Alt!Calliope’s final act is not unambiguously that of her Aspect acting through her , as you might expect from the “Most Passive Player” — Calliope’s thoughts are an active force in shaping how it ultimately happens.
Consider her mirror in Caliborn. Caliborn explicitly exploits others, getting them to benefit him with every action by enabling Lord English’s very existence. But his relationship to his Aspect is a little different.
Caliborn largely doesn’t take direct, conscious ownership of Time.
Instead, Caliborn says that his path is to do whatever he feels like, while becoming comfortable with the fact that the Will of Time itself will, in all things, come to serve him.
Caliborn is not directly Exploiting Time — at least, not during most of his ascent to power. He’s Allowing it to benefit him.
What this suggests to me is that the Master classes are defined not by absolute loyalty to either Exploitation or Allowance approaches to in connecting to their Aspect, but rather by absolute dominion over both approaches.
The Master Classes are Masters because they are naturally gifted at both the Yin and Yang connections they share to their Aspects — and so, to their worlds.
What does tie them completely to the Active and Passive labels is instead
how they relate to other people.
I don’t think I need to prove the point that Caliborn is selfish and self-centered to a downright cosmic scale, but Alt!Calliope waits a miserable eternity simply for one chance at helping other people.
And Calliope is constantly concerned with how others will think of her, to the point that she constantly maintains a false persona to control how they see her. She also spends all her time literally thinking about other people — namely, her friends, the characters of Homestuck.
Obviously, again: Being Self-Focused or Selfish isn’t Evil, and being
Group-Focused or Selfless isn’t Good. I’ll be making that astoundingly clear as we look at the rest of these characters.
But this does seem pretty definitively the core of the Active/Passive distinction, and allowing for this flexibility between the Exploit and Allow definitions explains everything about what the Active/Passive spectrum even means. I’ll be making this clear as we go, too.
Hopefully you’ll click on the three other essays and find out what I mean here. You’ll find the links a bit further down, between the banners.
Feel free to contact me with answers, questions and thoughts.
That’s all for now.
Special thanks go to my best buddy Kajy for putting these banners together for me, and also for being the best. Thanks dude.