Tex Talks and optimisticDuelist apparently believe that Knights are a passive class and Pages an active one. There are really a lot of reasons I have to disagree with that reading. Since Tex hasn’t talked much about it, I’ll be writing this as an open letter response to oD’s response to my ask here (and I’ve read the more detailed posts he links to, but most of the meat of this particular theory is in that post). For simplicity I’ll be covering subjects in the order they were summarized over there.
Way too much Homestuck analysis incoming, including unmarked spoilers. Read at your own risk. No, seriously, I get too deep into these things.
(Thanks to tripheus and Archiewhite for proofreading.)
Before the beginning
In Force and Flow: A Class Masterpost, you define active and passive in terms of selfishness and selflessness, noting that “[t]he 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.” I completely agree with this definition.
But in your diagram you go on to extrapolate from that a few times, and while your extensions of the concept are fairly natural, Homestuck makes a point of violating them so often and so regularly it simply doesn’t make sense to consider them patterns in Homestuck.
Here’s your diagram:
I’m against the lines “Yang to the wills of others” and “Yin to the wills of others”. I’d argue they should be dropped entirely. I also argue that Page and Knight specifically are very close and malleable passive/active-wise, which is the main reason it’s easy to find evidence for either way. But I think Pages are unambiguously a passive class, and Knights an active one, once we’re careful to consider something you noted, and then forgot about: their nasty habit of making personas.
Let’s get to the examples.
A taste for adventure
Damn, you went straight for the big guns. I can’t believe I didn’t think to check what order you did them in before saying that I would do them in the same order. Ah, well, a deal’s a deal.
My first problem with your reading of Jake comes through most obviously in the summary, although it shows up more subtly in the full essays:
Reading Jake as passive is the only reason anyone thinks DirkJake is ambiguous instead of one of the most mutual and passionate gay romances in all fiction
Emphasis mine. I think that here you’re wrongly conflating two different definitions of passive. It’s entirely possible to be passive in the sense of selfless, but also very much not passive in the sense of receptive, and indeed Homestuck plays fast and loose with that, if it’s even a pattern at all. Let’s try synonyms:
Reading Jake as receptive is the only reason anyone thinks DirkJake is ambiguous instead of one of the most mutual and passionate gay romances in all fiction
Reading Jake as selfless is the only reason anyone thinks DirkJake is ambiguous instead of one of the most mutual and passionate gay romances in all fiction
Which of those do you think is closer to what you meant by saying that? Personally, I think the version with “selfless” is nonsense, but the version with “receptive” is very reasonable — and I completely agree with it. But you’ve defined passive, in the classpect sense, as much closer to “selfless” than “receptive”.
This simply isn’t a substitution you can make. Rose, for instance, is a passive player, but demonstrably isn’t very receptive. She serves others’ best interests more often than not, but she doesn’t take too kindly to direct instruction. She prefers to find the path forward herself — and being a Seer, of Light no less, she’s very good at it.
In that way, at least, Rose very much reminds me of Jake. He usually tries to do his best to help his friends — contributing to the bunny and attacking Meenah in the dream bubbles make very good examples. But he is very insistent that he be the one to figure out what needs to be done. In fact, I’ll go back to that second example. Right before Jake attacks Meenah, we see Brain Ghost Dirk trying to talk him down, and while he’s very obviously not sure if he can do it, he’s also very adamant that it needs to be done. And remember, Brain Ghost Dirk is a product of Jake’s subconscious, meaning on some level he’s aware that this isn’t right. He’s suppressing that line of thought, consciously or not.
(And yes, I’m aware that Jake is following orders when he’s building the robot. There are two major differences: time travel and Calliope being involved make it abundantly clear to him that there is more going on here than he knows about, and more importantly, there’s no obvious goal to move towards. Jake has basically no idea what the bunny is for, and without others directing him, he has no idea what to add to it. Contrast that with “stop Sea Hitler”, which is a very concrete goal that he had an obvious way of working towards.)
he knowingly manipulated Jane into denying her feelings for him despite knowing otherwise for a fact because Roxy told him that she had feelings for him.
I’m covering this later even though it was first in the summary because I’ve gotta have my arbitrary reordering somewhere in this post.
My reading of that scene is entirely different from yours (and Arcturus’s). I wouldn’t construe it as manipulation, but I also don’t think he’s stupid. I think he’s panicking there. Step-by-step:
- Roxy lets slip that Jane has feelings for him.
- This throws Jake off massively, because he was trying to delay dealing with this sort of thing, but Roxy is forcing him to confront it. To compensate, he presses himself fully into the adventurer persona, probably instinctively.
- He immediately messages Jane, and tries to broach the subject. He has some trouble before managing.
- The adventurer persona begins to slip. Heroes are supposed to just know what to do next! Heroes charge forth and have no regrets! So Jake, demanding of himself that he become the most Adventurous™ he’s been in a long time (maybe ever), refuses to consider backtracking on anything he’s said, or even changing tactics at all. This is all probably subconscious.
- He stumbles around a bit before finally asking the question.
- Jane panics and lies.
- Jake immediately recognizes his mistake here. He knows Jane has feelings for him, but he also knows he’s gone about this completely wrong. But he can’t try again, because he’s fully in Adventurer mode now, and Adventurers Never Go Back On Anything! He even says outright, “Now jane lets not backpedal here”, and while you take that line as a sign of malice, I read it as a sign of fear. He’s afraid to backpedal, himself, because Adventurers don’t, and if Jane backpedals on anything that requires him to as well, so he can’t allow that either.
- At this point, Jake is completely panicking. He knows he’s completely screwed this up, and he desperately tries to figure out how to make it up to Jane. The first idea he comes up with is to ask her about Dirk, because hey, at least she’s involved in his love life then, right? Now, the idea is obviously nonsense when I phrase it like that, but Jake isn’t thinking very hard right now. He’s desperate. So he goes with it, without thinking it through.
- Either he realizes the second mistake right away, or not until a little bit later. I’m more inclined to think he figures it out quickly, because he is smart, but I don’t see direct evidence for either. Either way, well, backpedaling is still not an option. It continues not being an option for months, unfortunately.
I’d like to take a small detour to talk about the adventurer persona a bit. Knights and Pages tend to force themselves into personas to cope with personal issues. The whole point of such a persona is to contrast with things that its creator doesn’t like about themselves, so it makes perfect sense for such a persona to, in your own words, “sit at the dead opposite end of the spectrum from who [its owner] actually [is].” I would personally say that Jake’s Adventurer Persona would be a pretty textbook active player if it were real.
Contrast this with Jake’s win. Jake beats the felt, shocking Crowbar–but Crowbar doesn’t benefit from this at all. Jake does. Jake is the one who wants to be seen as an impressive adventuring hero, and by exposing Crowbar to an unforeseen possibility, he achieves that.
Celebrating a victory isn’t a particularly selfish act, in and of itself. I also don’t think Jake was necessarily intending to make any particular impression on Crowbar. Of course, he does, and he enjoys that he did so, but I can’t see that being the original motivation for fighting the Felt.
the reason there’s any people who think Karkat was turned into a joke and was never effective in the plot at all is because he almost always exerts his impact by “Allowing” his aspect, and thus ends up pretty effective all told despite not being aware of what he’s doing!
Actually, I honestly don’t get how you could think that at all. Karkat, throughout the story, spends a lot of time openly leading people, not just “Allowing” things. I honestly don’t understand why you could read him as “Allowing” anywhere near as much as he actively exerts his will.
I’ll mention anyway, though, that from the moment Karkat enters the session, his goal is to get it over with. He is very visibly frustrated with everything the game throws at him. But the only way to do that is to either kill everyone, which Karkat is not okay with doing for obvious reasons… or win. In other words, the selfish and selfless objectives mostly align themselves, which makes it really hard to determine whether anything Karkat does to help the session forward is primarily selfish or selfless.
What goes ignored is how unlikely a win this is–because Clover is so lucky, he straight up could not be defeated normally. Clover loses this fight not because he’s overpowered, but because he benefits even more than Karkat does. Clover is a horndog, and in his view there’s no better outcome to this fight than Getting Lucky. Karkat wins unawares, as if through the Will of Blood.
I think it would be significantly more lucky for Clover to not get distracted by stupid sexy Karkat — after all, he does have a job to do — but let’s call back to Act 5 Act 1, where Karkat runs a virus Sollux wrote, and then we get told that “Karkat and his friends and everyone they would ever meet thereafter would experience great misfortune on account of the curse” that the virus placed on them.
That curse, as far as I’m aware, never ended, and appears strong enough to overpower Clover’s luck. Which, as we know, isn’t infallible — he gets whacked with a newspaper and the narration comments that “you don’t have to be all that unlucky to get whacked around with a newspaper”, emphasis mine, implying that it’s still a mildly unlucky event, just not enough to trigger Clover’s powers. I would agree with that assessment of the luck involved in being hit with a newspaper, personally.
For Karkat, [the persona is] his ideas of being a Ruthless Big Shot Leader, which he also outgrows by the end
He continues being a Big Shot Leader up until the end of the comic. The only part he really outgrows is the Ruthless part, and even that’s debatable — he recognizes that leadership is more complicated than he thought, but he doesn’t seem to change his leadership style much in response to that. I don’t think he’s really past this persona at all by Act 7, let alone in the Game Over timeline.
Actually, here’s a thought. What if the persona is the relationship-aid role? He does quite a bit less of that later in the story, and it would fit the idea that personas oppose their players on the passive-active spectrum as well — leadership can be selfish or selfless, but helping others with their relationships inherently can’t be selfish… Food for thought.
Desperado rocket chairs
reading Tavros as passive ignores the fact that Tavros fights and resists Vriska’s will every step of the way throughout his abuse, and is pretty capable about knowing who to get to help him in stopping her.
It ignores that the one time Tavros almost used his powers he was acting under his own agency, and that he quite expressly and dramatically is unwilling to do things the way Vriska wills them on him.
So he wants the best for his friends, but he’s not willing to just follow their instructions, preferring to figure out how best to help them himself? Where have I heard that before… Also, once again the quote makes sense if “passive” means “receptive”, but not if it means “selfless”.
On Vriska’s end, ignoring that Pages inspire others to act for their own benefit paves over the element of her character that genuinely perceived herself as trying to help him
I would argue that that’s more a matter of Vriska’s personality than it is of Tavros’s, personally — Vriska consistently giving away that she’s not all that comfortable with how hellish their world is, as much as she’d like to pretend otherwise — but analyzing Vriska is well past what I’m trying to do with this.
But more than anything reading Pages as passive ignores Tavros’ motivation for raising the ghost army and turns it into “oh he ended up helping Vriska to her benefit in the end and that’s…his character arc?”
Which isn’t what that scene is at all. That scene is Tavros getting what he personally wanted to have closure for himself and move on from Vriska for good. Tavros healed. He moved on. He got a pretty gentle sort of revenge because Tavros is ultimately a kindhearted and gentle boy, but he used the ghosts specifically to aid his desire to own the fuck out of Vriska and then moved the hell on.
Por que no los dos? I think that Tavros here is motivated primarily by wanting to help the war effort, but chose this particular way to help because it allowed him to get back at Vriska. And really, after everything that happened to him? He totally deserved that chance. Taking it doesn’t make him a selfish person, it makes him normal. Incidentally, it makes perfect sense for him to be more selfish when dealing with Vriska than he usually is. He’s rebounding from abuse, of course he runs the risk of going unusually far in the other direction.
This doesn’t extend to just Vriska, though. Tavros inspires Kanaya and even Equius–who ordinarily wouldn’t help on account of the Hemospectrum–to provide him with robot legs, extending his freedom of motion, again a concept linked to Breath. This again benefits no one except Tavros.
(Knights and Pages – Serving, Service and Ownage)
Much later, it also allows him to build the army which is crucial to English’s defeat — after all, I doubt he would be particularly inspiring if he were still in a wheelchair. Any Prospit dreamer could easily have seen this in a cloud. Like, say, Kanaya, who conveniently enough also happens to be directly involved in the amputation. I’d even put it out there that by pointing out that Equius wasn’t usually one to help someone so far down on the hemospectrum and then immediately saying Tavros was lucky to have Kanaya, Hussie is deliberately implying that it was Kanaya who convinced Equius to do his part of the job, in addition to being the one to actually cut his legs off.
You didn’t talk about Dave in the summary, but let’s cover him just for completeness’ sake. Quotes in this section are from Knights and Pages: Serving, Service, and Ownage.
In this sense, Dave also operates “As if through the Will of the Aspect”, even as he’s in control of his actual powers. He’s presented with stable time loops that he has to obey, and it’s kind of a loaded question whether any given Present Dave would have taken the same path had he not already been given the path to follow from his future selves.
This is using “passive” as “receptive” again, but even besides that, it’s just a matter of being a Time player — or anyone in Sburb, really, but Time players have it hardest by far since they’re the ones with actual time powers. I can’t see this as a sign that Knights are passive without extending it to mean that all Time players are passive, which goes against the fundamentals of the class system as Calliope described them.
Dave’s primary contribution to the Beta session is to run loops around the session, constantly gathering all relevant resources possible so that his friends don’t need to worry at all about limitations like money or access to weapons and can do whatever they feel like.
Essentially, Dave takes care of the minutiae. He provides a service to his friends–putting them in the best position possible to act out their own wills.
I personally read this as him being pushed into a passive persona (note, once again, the persona contrasts its owner in the passive-active dimension) by necessity — after all, someone needed to take care of the minutiae, Dave happened to be well-equipped for it powers-wise, and it already jibes with his persona being cool, collected, and capable of solving problems. And again, I want to stress that Dave certainly isn’t doing this illegitimately or deceptively — only that it’s not necessarily his default position.
In fact, the next point makes a good example.
From the outset, Dave has a reputation for providing his friends with his Time, serving them long rambling diatribes to consume and enjoy–often far exceeding the time they’re willing to spend on the conversation.
The scene you linked reads fairly clearly to me exactly opposite of how you’ve read it. Dave simply ignores John telling him that he doesn’t care to hear rap at that moment, and raps anyway. Actually, you later describe a very similar event as “overwhelm[ing] Tavros with a time-consuming and epically sassy document”. I don’t doubt that doing this to Tavros was far more intentional and malicious than it was to John, but it’s basically the same thing happening.
When Karkat wants to make something bite, he ends a relationship. Refuses to continue offering his Aspect, basically. This is also something Dave does repeatedly–he overwhelms Tavros with a time-consuming and epically sassy document, and makes Time-based power plays against Karkat as a gesture of antagonism.
Uh… you’re giving examples of Dave forcing his aspect on others, and overwhelming them with it. This is exactly the opposite of Karkat refusing to offer his aspect to others. They’re not at all comparable.
I mean, you could read them both more generally as Knights picking and choosing where to send their aspect, but that could be done selfishly or selflessly, and both of these uses are selfish.
Friendship is paramount
I reread the Knights and Pages series to ensure I hadn’t missed anything and indeed found another issue with your arguments which snuck past me the first time around. I’ve been really trying not to get confrontational about this argument, but this one is in my opinion verging on deliberate dishonesty, so I apologize in advance for being really, really harsh on this one.
The point is this is not a boy who cares only about himself–it’s a boy who is so scared of disappointing the people he cares about he would rather lie to them and himself forever rather than face the possibility.
(Faith and Fear)
He’d rather die than live in a word [sic] without Jane, and that’s why he saves her–not because he thinks he owes it to her for past slights.
(As You Wish)
Jake’s victory ends up giving Hope to all those opposing Lord English, but Jake himself doesn’t give a shit about that. Jake’s stated motivation for trouncing Caliborn is one thing and one thing only: Saving Dirk. Serving his own desire to see Dirk safe. Caliborn is hurting his friend, and Jake is mad about it. His motivation is essentially identical to his desire to save Jane–he doesn’t want to live without Dirk.
(also As You Wish)
Do you see the common thread here? You’re repeatedly shoehorning a selfless goal into being a selfish one by adding a layer of abstraction. It’s most obvious in the last example, where you essentially turn “Jake does this to save Dirk”, an unambiguously selfless motive, into “Jake does this to serve his own desire to see Dirk safe”, which has exactly the same results but is suddenly selfish, for no particular reason. It’s just a pointless additional layer that only exists to obscure the fact that this is still a selfless action through and through!
The second example, with Jane, is subtler but actually takes this flaw further — Jake gives up any chance of being truly happy again in an attempt to save Jane from the same fate, and you simply implicitly assert that this is somehow selfish of him, without even bothering to add the layer of indirection.
And the first example? There, the goal is explicitly and unambiguously selfless. There’s not even any room for interpretation — not wanting to disappoint others is obviously selfless. Compare that to the second example — at least there you describe the goal in a way that could actually be reasonably construed as selfish at first glance!
I spent a while debating whether or not to include this section in the post at all, because it’s not directly relevant to whether we read Pages as passive or active. But you know what? I’ll include it anyway. Quotes in this section are from As You Wish unless otherwise noted.
I’ll be just as blunt about this as you were.
What Jake wants more than anything else in the world is Dirk, but not at all to make Dirk happy or because it’s what Dirk would want. No.
Jake wants Dirk because he’s selfish. Because he wants life to be happy and easy and adventurous but carefree, and he believes he can always rely on Dirk to take care of things or bail him out when things get too intense for him to handle. Jake wants Dirk as a best friend, a bodyguard, a partner, a rival and a servant all rolled into one.
Jake’s feelings for all of his friends have nothing to do with them and everything to do with himself. He’d rather die than live in a word [sic] without Jane, and that’s why he saves her–not because he thinks he owes it to her for past slights. The same is true of the way he wants to be with Dirk.
This reading of Dirk and Jake’s relationship is utterly appalling. It’s no better than the one you spent four essays arguing against, and shipping it is just as reprehensible.
Let’s recap. In a four–part essay series (with which I wholeheartedly agree), you describe a reading of Homestuck where Dirk manipulates Jake throughout their relationship, with no regard to what Jake wants or needs, and lay out all the ways in which this reading is flat-out wrong.
And now, you’ve just declared that you think their relationship is exactly the same thing in reverse.
No, don’t deny it. You’ve just explicitly stated that, as you see it, Jake’s only motivation for anything he does with Dirk is to get what he (Jake) wants out of it, ignoring everything Dirk needs. Actually, you’ve gone further — by reading Dirk as trying to live up to the image of Dave (who you still read as selfless, of course), you’ve implicitly established a dynamic where Dirk is far more vulnerable to this manipulation from Jake than Jake ever could have been to it from Dirk.
There is no reason that reading Jake as the abuser here makes a relationship with this dynamic any healthier. At all. Fortunately, Jake isn’t an abuser.
I’ve already explained why I think that Jake is fundamentally a selfless person. But I’ll call up one more example specifically relevant to this point.
Tricksters are essentially the very core of a personality placed in an environment where it can never be unhappy again. When Jane becomes a Trickster, she immediately runs to Jake. Selfishly. She turns Jake Trickster as well, and guess what his basest personality turns out to work to do above all else?
Pleasing literally everyone who ever wanted him.
Immediately after being turned into a Trickster, he remembers that Jane wanted him, and brings that up himself. Does he want Jane? Hell no. You’ve already established that he simply wasn’t interested in her, and I agree wholeheartedly. But he goes after her anyway, because she wanted him, and he does feel like he owes her. Then, he implicitly establishes the same relationship with Roxy, who — again — he’s not particularly interested in.
And then? He refuses to neglect Dirk either. In exactly the same way. The rules haven’t changed. Jake is still doing this because he wants to give people what they want, and there’s no reason to believe he’s doing anything more than correcting what he sees as an imbalance — after all, if he did only want Dirk selfishly, then he wouldn’t have any reason to also marry Jane and Roxy. But if he’s doing this to satisfy everyone else, rather than for his own sake, this makes perfect sense.
After the end
Just an aside.
In the session that requires constant action and change, there’s Three passives to one Active. In the session that requires patience, introspection, and connecting with each other, the inverse is true. The incentives and natural skills of the players are set at odds in both cases, stacking the cards against them.
This, once again, doesn’t make nearly as much sense with “passive” as “selfless” and “active” as “selfish” as it does with “passive” as “receptive” and “active” as “self-directed”. Once again, they aren’t the same thing.
In fact, \@arrghus makes an insightful point about these unbalanced sessions: Namely, that this puts the kids in the exact same position as the Trolls’ Red and Blue teams–which ALSO have an uneven distribution of Passive/Active classes under this reading, only reaching equilibrium when added together.
The kids’ sessions aren’t, in Arrghus’ words, “two halves of a singular whole”. The alpha session’s Skaia doesn’t respond at all to the beta kids’ lands being placed in its orbit. You could just as easily put the Moon in the alpha session, for all the game cares. Compare that to the trolls’ session, which was singular from well before the two chains were linked — each player’s prototyping influenced all the imps, and more obviously, they were in the same Incipisphere from the beginning. It’s really not at all the same.