Masks : Blackness, Race, and the Imagination

3.42 (7 ratings by Goodreads)
By (author)  , By (author)  , By (author) 

Free delivery worldwide

Available. Dispatched from the UK in 4 business days
When will my order arrive?


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 ofracial identity.
show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 304 pages
  • 165.1 x 237.7 x 26.2mm | 627.04g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • New
  • Illustrations, black and white
  • 0195133706
  • 9780195133707

Review quote

"Lively's writing is smart but accessible. He wears his scholarship gracefully and writes (thank God) like a novelist, not an academic....Masks provides an elegant overview of how Western society constructed 'blackness' over hundreds of years. I don't know of any work that covers the map from orientalism to racist imperialism so efficiently. This is quite a fresh, even startling book."--Diane Roberts, author of Faulkner and Southern Womanhood and The Myth of Aunt Jemima

"For readers in the United States who, on a consensual level, never identify themselves as being racists or living in a racist society, Lively's book is a much needed antidote. It offers valuable insights into the specific meanings of black experience."--Charles Long, author of Significations: Signs, Symbols, and Images in the Interpretation of Religion

"Erudite, but not over-academic, Masks is a brilliant survey of how 'blackness' figures in the novel."--Esquire

"A sophisticated survey of the culture of race... this book lucidly covers important cultural territory."--Sunday Times (London)

"An epic of the evolution of racial consciousness and identity in both history and canonical literature from the 18th to the 20th centuries."--Sherri Barnes, Library Journal
show more

About Adam Liveley

Adam Lively is a well-known critic, novelist, and broadcaster. He was born in Swansea and studied history and philosophy in England and America. He is the author of four novels, Blue Fruit, The Burnt House, The Snail, and Sing the Body Electric, as well as a pamphlet, Parliament: The Great British Democracy Swindle. Mr. Lively lives in London.
show more

Rating details

7 ratings
3.42 out of 5 stars
5 14% (1)
4 57% (4)
3 0% (0)
2 14% (1)
1 14% (1)
Book ratings by Goodreads
Goodreads is the world's largest site for readers with over 50 million reviews. We're featuring millions of their reader ratings on our book pages to help you find your new favourite book. Close X