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 howchanging 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 andsometimes 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 ofworks over the last three centuries--including slave autobiographies, sentimental romances, propagandist verse, natural history, jazz (which he calls "a music of disguises") and such 20th-century writers as Jean Genet, Joseph Conrad, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, John Updike, EugeneO'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 characteristics are derived largely from black experience of ashifting 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.