Juxtaposition is the act of placing two entities in close proximity to each other. To lose two juxtaposed teeth is to lose two teeth that were right next to each other. Juxta, a latin root word, means to be close to, or adjoining. The suffix juxta is often used more medical terms, such as juxtaglomerular, which always denotes entities that are right next to each other. Position comes from the French word of the same spelling, the connotation meaning to take a stance, or lay down a thesis. In today’s speech and writing, the use of the word juxtaposition is used to describe a sharp contrast between two things. By placing two positions, each with their own identity in close proximity to each other, their defining characteristics and differences stand out. Interestingly enough, juxta is also the root for the word joust, the medieval sport where two men on horseback hurdle towards each other with lances with the intent of knocking each other off their horses. Jostle is another word that shares the same root, meaning the situation of being crammed in tightly together, or a rough shake or push when two things get too close to each other. It seems from the imagery that comes to mind, then, that the proximity implied in the root juxta is one of violence and opposition. In this sense, it’s no wonder that juxtaposition is used to describe a comparison of sorts.
The first uses of the word juxtaposition to denote a sharp contrast or comparison seem to first appear in the late 19th century, by men such as Edward Freeman to describe the contrast between words and by Max Muller to describe the differences between languages. Since architects often use contrasting materials in designs, the use of the word juxtaposition in professional discourse is ubiquitous. For example, Daniel Liebeskind’s addition to the Royal Ontario Museuem juxtaposes the more traditional building forms that inhabit Bloor street. However, the word has potential to be abused or overused when it is used to merely suggest a difference between two things. Instead, it should be used to describe two things that have been deliberately placed next to each other for the specific purpose of contrast or comparison. Literature also uses juxtaposition quite frequently. Contrasting words, sentences, and chapters are placed next to each other to imply a meaning. Don DeLillo has said, “I like the construction of sentences and the juxtaposition of words-not just how they sound or what they mean, but even what they look like”. In the fine arts, juxtaposition was espescially popular in surrealist painting, where the combination of seemingly unrelated objects was commonplace. In Magritte’s painting, “The son of man” for example, a man stands in the centre of the frame with an apple directly in front of his face. Aesthetically, the man’s formal attire and the constructed landscape contained in the painting contrast the bright colour and natural form of the apple. That is to say, there is a juxtaposition between the man made and the natural, as well as the bleak and the bright.
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