juxtaposition (composition)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

In The Rhetoric of Cool (2007), Jeff Rice observes that the "nature of new media composition represented on the Web, TV, film, iPods, digital sampling, and elsewhere is the result of the complex juxtaposition of ideas, images, texts, and sounds.". (Westend61/Getty Images)


In composition, juxtaposition is the placing of verbal elements side by side, leaving it up to the reader to establish connections and discover or impose a meaning.

These verbal elements (words, clauses, sentences) may be drawn from different sources and juxtaposed to form a literary collage.

Juxtaposition is a type of rhetorical parataxis—the independent arrangement of words, phrases, or clauses.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "Watchmen at lonely railroad crossings in Iowa, hoping that they'll be able to get off to hear the United Brethren evangelist preach. . . . Ticket-sellers in the subway, breathing sweat in its gaseous form. . . . Farmers plowing sterile fields behind sad meditative horses, both suffering from the bites of insects. . . . Grocery-clerks trying to make assignations with soapy servant girls. . . . Women confined for the ninth or tenth time, wondering helplessly what it is all about. . . ."
    (H.L. Mencken. "Diligence." A Mencken Chrestomathy, 1949)

  • "The word cannot be expressed direct . . . It can perhaps be indicated by mosaic of juxtaposition like articles abandoned in a hotel drawer, defined by negatives and absence . . ."
    (William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch. Grove Press, 1962)

  • E.B. White's Use of Juxtaposition
    "Being crazy this way wouldn't be so bad if only, if only. If only when you put your foot forward to take a step, the ground wouldn't come up to meet your foot the way it does. And the same way in the street only I may never get back to the street unless I jump at the right door, the curb coming up to meet your foot, anticipating ever so delicately the weight of the body, which is somewhere else. 'We could take your name,' she said, 'and send it to you.' And it wouldn't be so bad if only you could read a sentence all the way through without jumping (your eye) to something else on the same page; and then (he kept thinking) there was that man out in Jersey, the one who started to chop his trees down, one by one, the man who began talking about how he would take his house to pieces, brick by brick, because he faced a problem incapable of solution, probably, so he began to hack at the trees in the yard, began to pluck with trembling fingers at the bricks in the house. Even if a house is not washable, it is worth taking down. It is not till later that the exhaustion sets in.

    "But it is inevitable that they will keep changing the doors on you, he said, because that is what they are for; and the thing is to get used to it and not let it unsettle the mind. But that would mean not jumping, and you can't. . . ."
    (E.B. White, "The Door." Poems and Sketches of E. B. White. Harper & Row, 1981)

  • Samuel Beckett's Use of Juxtaposition
    "We live and learn, that was a true saying. Also his teeth and jaws had been in heaven, splinters of vanquished toast spraying forth at each gnash. It was like eating glass. His mouth burned and ached with the exploit. Then the food had been further spiced up by the intelligence, transmitted in a low tragic voice across the counter by Oliver the improver, that the Malahide murderer’s petition for mercy, signed by half the land, having been rejected, the man must swing at dawn in Mountjoy and nothing could save him. Ellis the hangman was even now on his way. Belacqua, tearing at the sandwich and swilling the precious stout, pondered on McCabe in his cell."
    (Samuel Beckett, "Dante and the Lobster." Samuel Beckett: Poems, Short Fiction, and Criticism, ed. by Paul Auster. Grove Press, 2006)

  • Ironic Juxtaposition
    "Ironic juxtaposition is the fancy term for what happens when two disparate things are placed side by side, each commenting on the other. . . .

    "Olivia Judson, a science writer, uses this technique to tweak our interest in what could be a stultifying subject, the female green spoon worm:
    The green spoon worm has one of the most extreme size differences known to exist between male and female, the male being 200,000 times smaller than his mate. Her lifespan is a couple of years. His is only a couple of months—and he spends his short life inside her reproductive tract, regurgitating sperm through his mouth to fertilize her eggs. More ignominious still, when he was first discovered, he was thought to be a nasty parasitic infestation.
    (from Seed magazine)
    The author's point of view is a sly wink, the humiliation of the minuscule male sea creature serving as an emblem for his crude and increasingly miniaturized human counterpart. The juxtaposition is between worm sex and human sex."
    (Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. Little, Brown and Company, 2006)

  • Haiku and the Principles of Juxtaposition
    "The term juxtaposition . . . can also refer to a rhetorical technique which goes beyond the straightforward placement of communicative elements next to each other. In this more specialized sense, juxtaposition can be defined as:
    combining together two or more communicative elements so as to suppress the connections between them and emphasize the differences, thereby provoking some surprise or puzzlement at their close placement.
    Some simple principles of juxtaposition can be illustrated at work in the following translations of 17th- and 18th-century Japanaese Haiku.
    Haiku 1

    Harvest moon:
    On the bamboo mat
    Pine tree shadows.

    Haiku 2

    Wooden gate.
    Lock firmly bolted:
    Winter moon.
    . . . In each case there is only an implicit connection between the elements on either side of the colon. Although it is possible to see a causal relation between a harvest moon and pine tree shadows, the lack of explicit connections forces the reader to make an imaginative leap. The connection between a locked wooden gate and a winter moon demands an even greater imaginative effort. In each poem there is a basic juxtaposition between a natural image and a human one—a harvest moon and a bamboo mat, a bolted gate and a winter moon—which creates a tension between the first and second part."
    (Martin Montgomery, et al., Ways of Reading: Advanced Reading Skills for Students of English Literature, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2000)

  • Radical Juxtaposition: The Collage Principle
    "The Surrealist tradition . . . is united by the idea of destroying conventional meanings, and creating new meanings or counter-meanings through radical juxtaposition (the 'collage principle'). Beauty, in the words of Lautréamont, is 'the fortuitous encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table.' . . . The Surrealist sensibility aims to shock, through its techniques of radical juxtaposition."
    (Susan Sontag, "Happenings: An Art of Radical Juxtaposition." Against Interpretation, and Other Essays. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1966)

  • A Rhetoric of Cool
    "My own interest in creating a rhetoric of cool reflects the Burroughs/McLuhan method of composing; the meanings of cool that direct my thinking all stem from an initial temporal juxtaposition. The very process of juxtaposition, [Marshall] McLuhan felt, is a cool one for how it forges readers (and writers) to interact with the unexpected textual and visual associations juxtapositions force us to encounter. . . .

    "To teach juxtaposition, composition studies has to put aside the fixation on order 1963 idealized composition practices stress at the expense of necessary rhetorical conflict. My interest is in using those points regarding juxtaposition . . . to theorize how juxtaposition can thus function 'as dare' and teach students writing outside of 'the neatly ordered' systems believed to be the only authentic method. Another model for such work, and related to hypertext because of its ability to interconnect a wide variety of ideas and texts, are the DJ samples that comprise a great deal of hip-hop."
    (Jeff R. Rice, The Rhetoric of Cool: Composition Studies and New Media. Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 2007)

  • Pastiche
    "Pressed to its limits, artistic juxtaposition becomes what is sometimes termed pastiche. The goal of this tactic, which has been employed in both high-culture and pop-culture contexts (e.g., MTV videos), is to barrage the viewer with incongruous, even clashing images that call into question any sense of objective meaning."
    (Stanley James Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism. Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996)
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Nordquist, Richard. "juxtaposition (composition)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 30, 2016, thoughtco.com/juxtaposition-composition-term-1691090. Nordquist, Richard. (2016, August 30). juxtaposition (composition). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/juxtaposition-composition-term-1691090 Nordquist, Richard. "juxtaposition (composition)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/juxtaposition-composition-term-1691090 (accessed March 22, 2018).