Diagrammatical Dissertation

A bringing together of beloved belles lettres, this chart diagrams 25 famous opening lines from revered works of fiction according to the dictates of the classic Reed-Kellogg system. From Cervantes to Faulkner to Pynchon, each sentence has been painstakingly curated and diagrammed by PCL's research team, parsing classical prose by parts of speech and offering a partitioned, color-coded picto-grammatical representation of some of the most famous first words in literary history. Whether you’re a book buff, an English teacher, or a hard-line grammarian, this diagrammatical dissertation has something for the aesthete in all of us.

24" x 18"

Each print is signed and numbered by the artists from a first printing of 500, and comes packaged in a Pop Chart Lab Test Tube.

Using 100 lb. archival stock certified by The Forest Stewardship Council, this poster is pressed on an offset lithographic press with vegetable-based inks in Long Island City, Queens.

Sentence diagramming is pretty old school: It became popular in classrooms sometime after 1877, when Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellogg published their book, Higher Lessons in English. The technique turns sentences into graphic structures, also called parse trees, to better understand grammar and literature. For “A Diagrammatical Dissertation on Opening Lines of Notable Novels,” the Pop Chart Lab team decided to dissect the first lines from 25 literary classics. “We like to think that there’s some overlap between opening lines and good design: At a glance, you can often tell if you want to spend time with a piece of art,” Gibson tells Co.Design. “It’s probably just as important for an author to make their first lines engaging.”

So what can you extract from all the lines and branches of sentence diagramming? For visual learners especially, it can serve as a profound tool for analysis. Take, for instance, the introductory line from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” It’s one of the longer lines featured on the poster, yet a simple diagram reveals the core meaning: Aureliano Buendia, was to remember, afternoon. This opening line (and the whole novel, really) is built around memories.

Gertrude Stein once said, “I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences.” Gibson and his team must feel the same way. Get the full poster for $23, here.

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