On Contextualization

Contextualization is a wonderful rhetorical tool, but it can be overused, and/or used improperly. When used properly, the audience responds by understanding the text better and relating to the author in a more poetic and physical sense. When I say that “the room got louder, like a library just after a class gets out,” many people can relate to the increase of population in a school library after the release of a class; however, the opposite is as well true. If one has never attended a school, or never been in a library, this experience is totally foreign to them, and they cannot connect with the image that I am trying to portray. The same is true for contextualization as a whole. One must alter the contextualization not only for what the author knows, but also for the rhetorical audience that the author is trying to reach.

If I were to write the sentence about the library in a journal to online gamers, the imagery might be lost. But, if I were writing it in a journal for college librarians, it is entirely appropriate as it is a daily experience that they can relate to. It is all about who one’s audience is and what they can relate to. Contextualization is not something that a person can just arbitrarily throw into a text thinking, “oh, someone will get it,” but rather, it is something that must be tailored to each audience according to their needs.

This comes from my reflection on Nic Sheff’s book TWEAK. It is a summary of the thesis and argument that I made about his book, but also extends further to all memoir, and all writing in general.


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