How a literary work becomes a classic: The case of One Hundred Years of Solitude
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If meanings are so contested and changeable, how can individuals reach a collective agreement about what makes some cultural objects meaningful over time and across space? And how can social scientists construe robust interpretations of cultural objects whose meanings are shifting and malleable? These questions are pertinent to literary classics, whose meanings relentlessly change, and yet people living in different countries and historical periods collectively agree about their significance. This article argues that a literary work can become a classic when it transcends its original context of production and its contents are progressively appropriated by actors and organizations that had no share in their production. Using the case of One Hundred Years of Solitude, this article, first, studies 10 ways in which that novel transcended its original context and, second, documents the appropriation of some of its contents in 56 countries between 1967 and 2013. To contribute to more robust interpretations of meaningful cultural objects with shifting meanings, this article offers four patterns (lived experience, universalization, artistic commensuration and entrenched criticism) involved in the collective fabrication of the value of One Hundred Years of Solitude as a literary classic.