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Masks: Blackness, Race and the Imagination

 Author: Adam Lively  Category: All books, General Reading  Publisher: Chatto & Windus  Published: January 1, 2000  ISBN: 978-0701162443  Pages: 256  Language: English

What is “race”? A biological fact, a social construction, or an assumed disguise? In Masks: Blackness, Race and the Imagination, acclaimed novelist and critic Adam Lively offers a brilliant exploration of how the concept of blackness has evolved in Western thought and literature, and how changing notions of racial identity helped to shape modern consciousness.

Lively traces ideas of racial difference to their earliest expressions in European culture, at the time of the Europeans’ first encounters with African and American peoples, and follows these ideas to their current incarnations in contemporary America and the Caribbean. He explores the various and sometimes reversible ways in which racial identity has functioned as a mask: the pure white soul inside the black person; the primitive, dark soul ready to break through the civilized white veneer; the “invisible” black whose identity consists of projected white fears. Examining a wide range of works over the last three centuries — including stave autobiographies, sentimental romances, propagandist verse, natural history, jazz (“a music of disguises”) and such 20th-century writers as Conrad, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, John Updike, Eugene O’Neill, and others — Lively explores the fluidity of racial, identity. He argues that the modernist concern with the uncertainties of identity and indeed that modernism’s relativistic, ironic, pluralistic, and perpetually questioning characteristic are derived largely from black experience of a shifting sense of self.

Lucidly written and covering an enormous historical, expanse, Masks uncovers the changing ways we have tried to understand the elusive and often illusory nature of racial identity.

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