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Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition simply means that one object is placed next to another object. The implication, though, is that there is some kind of meaningful knowledge that can be gleaned from the effect of contrast that is produced by the juxtaposition. For example, one may choose to juxtapose the American healthcare system with the French healthcare system, in order to figure out what America would perhaps be able to do better.  

What is a juxtaposition? 

Juxtaposition refers to the practice of putting one thing next to another thing, for the sake of achieving the effect of contrast between the two things. Juxtaposition can be done either for the inherent effect of the contrast itself, or for the purpose of enabling further analysis regarding the nature and meaning of the contrast. Jusxtaposition is often in used in comparative essays like this sample essay on the light and dark side of The Force.

Examples of use

Here are some examples of the term juxtaposition being used within the context of real sentences. 

  • "When the story of the Vietnam War was placed in juxtaposition with the story of the Iraq War, the student realized that history really does tend to repeat itself, albeit with a few variations here and there." 
  • "The juxtaposition of the pale walls with the neon carpet hurt the man's eyes, to the point that he wondered whether the designed of the room had perhaps been colorblind."
  • "The juxtaposition of Harry Potter with Voldemort revealed that the two figures actually shared some important character traits, including the strange and rare ability to speak with and be understood by snakes."
  • "The juxtaposition of election years 1916 and 2016 reveal some similarities and vast differences between the two time periods."

Rules and practices 

  1. Juxtaposition can refer to simply placing one object next to another. More commonly, though, it refers to doing this with the explicit purpose of drawing out some further meaning from the contrast or comparison that would not have been possible to draw out had either of the objects been considered in isolation.
  2. Juxtaposition thus always implies a kind of meaning, although the question of whether the meaning was produced in an intentional or accidental way can be an open question. For example, a person may perceive a juxtaposition within his own mind when this was not in fact intended by anyone in particular.  

Additional information on juxtaposition(s)

The concept of juxtaposition is closely related to the nature of language and meaning. A juxtaposition will almost always contain a comparative by it's very nature. More specifically, it is almost impossible to describe a single object in a vacuum, all by itself; and even the words used to describe such an object would only derive their meaning from contrast against other words. For example, if one calls an object red, this would have no intrinsic meaning at all. The word "red" gets its meaning from its juxtaposition with other colors, which reveals that red is not-blue, not-green, and so on. In truth, the definition of every word really emerges from exactly this kind of juxtaposition (just as when a dictionary defines an English word, it can only do so by making use of other English words). 

Juxtaposition also tends to establish a frame of reference by calling attention to differences but doing so within a broader context in which the juxtaposed objects are similar (or vice versa). For example, if two very similar persons are considered in juxtaposition with each other, then the student is likely to pay attention to their differences; whereas if two very different persons are considered in juxtaposition, the student is likely to work toward figuring out what meaning there could be in brining them together. Juxtaposition is thus a technique for selectively drawing out salient features from a given person or thing. 

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