Autobiography and the Representation of the Self: X-Ray
"To the rays in question, expressing the fact that
their essential nature is unknown."
With the subtitle on the dust jacket proclaiming that it is an "Unauthorised Autobiography", Ray Davies' book X-Ray alerts readers early on that this work is not an ordinary celebrity autobiography looking at the life of a rock musician. Ray Davies plays with many of the conventions of the autobiography for his own reasons. "I don't like the idea of autobiography" he told Dan Deluca, "but there are ways of spilling your guts. They can be spilt in an interesting way." In this essay I will examine how Davies constructs X-Ray and how this impacts on the image of himself that he attempts to create
The work begins with a first person narrative, which quickly establishes that it is not Ray Davies addressing the reader, but an Archives Clerk who is sent to interview him. Readers can piece together that the present of the narrative is set in approximately 2010 AD because "He must have been in his late sixties". (p7). The Archives Clerk works for the Corporation, an all-powerful organisation that invokes an image of an authoritarian society reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984. The Archives Clerk has been assigned to write a report on Ray Davies. This requires that he meet Ray Davies to discuss his life. The narrative switches between The Archives Clerk's observations of Raymond Davies (as he prefers to be called), transcripts of what the Raymond Davies character recounts from his life, and the occasional hallucinatory experience of the Archives Clerk where Raymond Davies seems to take over his body.
The Archives Clerk functions as a personification of a fan, the person who wants to get to know their idol and incorporates their idol's life into their own. Ray Davies can use this concept to direct the autobiography, undercutting one view of himself with what appears to be a more "objective" one. He can write an autobiography but remain private at the same time, replacing detailed information with a detective narrative: Will the Clerk be able to get Raymond Davies to talk, to give up all his secrets? It functions to dramatise the process of reconstructing Raymond Davies' life, giving the work a narrative focus that masks the lack of detail that Davies presents in X-Ray.
The mixing of narrative structures that takes place is a disconcerting feature of X-Ray and one that requires consideration. The most common structure for autobiography is the first person narrative, the author writing about "my" life, what "I" did and how events effect "me". These signal to the reader that the author is writing about himself or herself, what they know, experienced and felt.
This first person narrative most commonly forms a chronological narrative of the life of the writer. In X-Ray the reader has to work to piece together the narrative of[[Ray Davies]]' life. With in X-Ray the basic structure of such a chronology is presented ending in 1973 with the break up in his first marriage. There is only the occasional vague reference to events after that time. In their book The Kinks, Well Respected Men Neville Marten and Jeffrey Hudson (p96) suggest that after 1973 the Kinks ceased to be a "thriving going concern" and that Ray would "Rather Kill himself off in text that be seen to loose the race". This is a reference to his desire to be a winner, as expressed in the recollections of his schoolboy running career.
Perhaps a clue to why Davies disrupts the usual chronological structure of autobiography can be found in some of the critical writing on the work Antimemoires (1967) by Andre Malraux, which has a similarly disruptive structure. Commentators (Harris, 1996. p196. Madsen, 1977. p232. Elbaz, 1988. p119) speak of Malraux's expressed opposition to the autobiographical endeavour, dismissing biographical information as trivial: "Why should I care about what only concerns me? "(Madsen, p323)". In Antimemoires Malraux ignores the details of his personal experiences in favour of discussions of public events and social concerns. In this approach experience is seen to define the self at the time of experience. There is then no consistent self to give account of, only a series of reactions to contexts and events that an individual experiences. As Elbaz puts it:
"Malraux's text suggests that self is not and cannot be defined, and therefore no narrative can encompass it; it constitutes an ongoing process of redefinition dependent upon the transcendental-historical phenomena which shape it. And autobiography, the story of the self, will therefore have to be the story of the phenomena which continually give birth to that self. "(p120)
Antimemoiresis described as a series of memoirs recording the travels of a character called "Malraux". This character travels the world as the writer did as a global ambassador for France in his capacity as Minister of Arts. He meets famous political figures, engaging them in conversation regarding important issues and historical developments. There is little attempt to create a coherent chronology in these memoirs, the narrative shifts across time at will, just as X-Ray does with its split chronology
In his discussion of narrative strategies in autobiographies, Phillip Lejeure suggests that readers cannot find confirmation of the author's intention to present the truth their life in autobiography itself. This claim of truth, which he calls the autobiographical pact, is identified by the uses of the author's name on the cover and the name of the narrator. In autobiography the "I" of the narrator usually shares the name of the author. In X-Ray the narrative voice is not fixed, Raymond Davies speaks, the Archives Clerk speaks, the Archives Clerk becomes Raymond Davies, Raymond Davies speaks about himself in the third person. The cover of the book seems to create an autobiographical pact, and then the first page suggests a fictional intent. In Lejeune's scheme of things this work inhabits the "blackened squares" of writing. Lejeune declared that such a form means that the reader would always have doubts:
"...it would never result in a text that we would read as an autobiography; nor really as a novel either; but in a Pirandellian game of ambiguity. To my knowledge, it is a game that we practically never play seriously (Lejeune, p19. Emphasis mine).
Lejeune's claim that there is no serious intention with such a structure deserves further investigation. Lejeune himself points out later in "On Autobiography" that a fictitious witness can serve to hide the absence of detail. This is accepted by the reader of such a text because what has "...escaped the attention of the other.". (p47) , the fictitious witness that the author creates, does not have access to that information. This lack of access occurs frequently in X-Ray. The Archives Clerk wants to gain an insight into Raymond Davies but is frustrated by his ill-tempered manner. Archives Clerk has to be cautious as he questions Raymond Davies. Through this interplay Ray Davies is able to bring up issues that the reader might want to know about while at the same time refusing to deal with them in detail. He can achieve this by having the Archives Clerk comment on such topics and having the Raymond Davies character either refuse to discuss them or by killing him off before they have reached that point in Raymond's recollections. This structure helps to mask the boundaries that Ray Davies imposes on what is revealed and what will remain private by obscuring them behind a narrative that captures the readers attention.
Another means of approaching the problem of X-Rays structure is suggested by Lejeune's reference to the Pirandellian" "aspects of such strategies in the quotation referred to above. This is a reference to the Italian author and playwright Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936), whose work is described as questioning received assumptions about individual personality and the notion of reality (Banham, 1995, Dribble 1995). In the biographical notes from his Nobel Prize presentation it was pointed out that
"Pirandello is always preoccupied with the problem of identity. The self exists to him only in relation to others; it consists of changing facets that hide an inscrutable abyss."
If Pirandello's concern is with questions regarding the presentation of self and what constitutes identity then a "Pirandellian game of ambiguity" can be useful, because it can make the reader pause and give consideration to how the style of the work functions to create an impression of the autobiography's writer. By playing with the conventions such games make the reader consider how the conventions function.
In X-Ray Raymond Davies is shown as reluctant to go into detail about his own life, resisting the public/media's consistent quest for detail about his life. He expresses the "horrific realisation that my personal life was under a microscope". (p103) but in writing X-Ray Ray Davies is pandering to that desire while the structure he uses helps hide this contradiction by separating inquisitor and recluse.
Amongst the recollections of Raymond Davies' past X-Ray also presents a narrative concerning the elderly Raymond Davies being interviewed by the Archives Clerk, who is introduced to the reader with the opening line "My name is of no importance". As this character is developed through X-Ray his ambiguous identity is emphasised. The Clerk is an orphan who has been cared for by the Corporation. They paid for his schooling and upbringing and now he works for them in their records office. As his first job they assign him the job of writing Ray Davies' biography. He is portrayed as having no control over his life, no personality except that he recognizes lack of personality. His name is not important him because he has no individuality. He lacks an identity in terms of an name and in conception of self.
As the interview progresses the Archives Clerk becomes more independent, deciding to ignore some of the directives that the Corporation make concerning his job. He soon stops taking the sedatives that the Corporation prescribes for him and finds that he starts to dream. Thus he begins to form his own self-identity.
The Archives Clerk also starts to experience hallucinations in which he is possessed by Raymond Davies, reliving events that Raymond Davies has described. Their separate identities begin to fuse in a way that glorifies Raymond Davies' individuality by showing the new freedom that the Archives Clerk can experience. At the same time Raymond Davies is able to escape his frail body and relive his youth. At the end of the book Raymond Davies dies, leaving the Archives Clerk with an incomplete biography. In an attempt to gain access to more information the Clerk tries to impersonate Raymond Davies over the phone but his ruse is not believed by the person on the other end of the line.
The figure of the Archives Clerk can be seen to operate in a variety of ways to engage the reader in X-Ray. Firstly, his position is akin to that of the reader in that he wants to find out about Raymond Davies and discover the truth about the man. He also mirrors the reader in the way he accesses outside sources to build up an impression of Raymond Davies. He is portrayed listening to the same records that the reader might be drawn to, the big hits and albums that Raymond Davies describes making. Ray Davies is thus able to encourage readers to do the same by passing judgments on the records through the thoughts of the Archives Clerk. The connections between the music and Raymond Davies the person is made explicit when he comments:
"The best way to work myself out, is in those flashes and memories that come up during the songs, like a collision between the past and the future." (p73)
The Archives Clerk also makes judgments about Raymond Davies, such as "I thought he was a perverted, over-lustful, desperate, sexist weirdo. ‘It's interesting, do go on,' I said." (p11). In this way Davies can portray himself as a distasteful person while also keeping the reader on side by being critical of his own behaviour.
The narrative of the Archives Clerk also adds a heroic aspect to the autobiography, in that Raymond Davies is shown as an example of individuality and as an inspiration for people to change their lives. So while his bitterness at other people and the reclusive nature of his life are negative; he is also a role model. He can therefore be shown to conquer death through having an effect on people that out lasts his own life.
The relationship between the Archives Clerk and Raymond Davies also serves to highlight an important facet of X-Ray, which is the status of Ray Davies as a celebrity. In his study of the etymological roots of the word "Celebrity" David Marshall points out that there are several facets to the term. It developed from a solemn celebration to the condition of being extolled or talked about, famousness, notoriety and finally to a person of celebrity, a celebrated persona: a public character.
Marshall argues that celebrity is a democratic status conferred on a person by the public. As such a king or queen can not truly be called a celebrity because their public standing is hereditary. He also suggests that celebrity is a means of valorising meaning and communication, in that the status granted the celebrity gives them the opportunity to voice their thoughts, beliefs and the public grant them the time to speck, paying attention to them. An example of this is Bob Geldorf's concerns with the famine in Africa and the subsequent fund raising event Live Aid. His celebrity and that of the other participants involved meant that they had access to audiences that were willing to listen to what they had to say.
There is also a negative aspect to this status in that the public have a suspicion about the celebrity. They view celebrities as fabricated commodity, false and shallow, projecting an image. The public can be fickle; Andy Warhol's quip that in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes is more than often true in that celebrities appear, then disappear very quickly.
The celebrity autobiography draws on both these threads. The celebrity's fame attracts the reader. In the case of Ray Davies I bought the book because I had a vague idea who he was. The centrally placed "the Kinks" badge on the cover plays on the fame of the group. Ray Davies' brother's autobiography is called Kink in a similar attempt to establish his book's credentials as a worthy read.
This concern with what validates the celebrity mirrors a point that Philippe Lejeune makes when he refers to the aspect of an author's status:
"An author is not a person, he is a person who writes and publishes. Straddling the world-beyond-the-text and the text, he is the connection between the two.....Perhaps one is only an author only with his second book, when the proper name inscribed on the cover becomes the "common factor" of at least two different texts and thus gives the idea of a person who cannot be reduced to any of his texts in particular, and who, capable of producing others, surpasses them all." (Lejeune, p11)
Lejeune goes on to suggest that the author ".. draws his reality from the list of his other works which figure often in the front of the book." (p12). In an celebrity autobiography such as X-Ray the music that the writer is famous for adds status to the name on the cover.
Lejeune argues that the belief in the real figure of the author is an important part of the autobiographical pact in that the reader expects the work to be non-fiction, the record of events that the writer has experienced. In relation to celebrities Joshua Garson points out that because they are living people, they offer hope that anyone can succeed if they work hard. They offer the public hope in the form of success obtained.
The fan can also incorporate a celebrities' work into their own autobiography. Timothy Dugan suggests two ways that fans achieve this:
"..on a symbolic level through the fans use the everyday lives as a way of understanding their own; and second, on an experimental basis, as fans mark their own autobiographies in terms of the experience of observing the everyday lives of celebrities."
The products of a celebrity also make their way into the public's autobiography, the works become mementos of moments and events in peoples' lives. Recently the British Broadcasting Corporation's comedy drama Hunting Venus gave a nice example of this. The show focused on a new romantic band from the 1980's reforming in the 1990's. In the play two fans wanted the band to reform because it meant a lot to them and marked out important events in their lives. The two women had met and consummated their relationship at one of the concerts. They collected all the bands records, formed a fan club etc.
In the case of autobiography the text itself can become a souvenir in that it can represent not only the person whose name appears on the cover but it reminds the reader of events in their own life. Susan Stewart discusses this aspect in her work On Longing. The role of a souvenir is one of traces of experience for events that are non-repeatable and which exist now only through the invocation of narrative. The Narrative that the object creates is the narrative of the person, not the object. So when the traveller returns home, looking at the fridge magnet or tea towel that they bought while overseas reminds them of the trip, where they went, what they did etc. The souvenir is thus an object of memory, and Stewart points out that the word came from the Latin Subvenire, meaning to come to mind.
In X-Ray Davies enacts this process with the Archives Clerk as fan, the person who remembers the music and whose life is changed by it. Another example of this is Ray Davies' own memories of the role that music played in family life, the sing a longs in his parents front room. He recalls that "...our older sisters played all of their be-bop records on the phonogram in the bay by the windows of the front room". (p32).
His career as a musician and writer is what gives structure to his memories. Personal details are placed in the context of what song he was working on, what album has been released and the chart positions of the Kinks' singles.
Music is a strong part of the self that Davies creates in X-Ray. The creative role of composer and performer define his personal development. It also signals success, something that is very important to his self-image. He comments on his running career at school: "One thing was certain; where I could, whenever I could, I needed to win". (p58). Of his musical success he comments "If I'd gone to college to learn music and finish my education I would have just been another expert. What I did, what I do, is unique to me." (p73)
This striving for success is in opposition to being part of the faceless mass of people who conform. The fictitious Corporation that has gained control of society in the present of X-Ray strives to make everyone the same. During his schooling Raymond Davies recalls his opposition to the education system and his refusal to be judged by its standards so he signed his name on the top of an exam and did nothing else until the exam was over. "I realised that it would be a battlebetween me and them." (p34)
This conflict continues throughout X-Ray in Raymond Davies' insistence on making music the way he wants and the ongoing struggle to renegotiate his publishing contract so that he receives the benefit of his talents. The authoritarian setting echoes this theme of the individual against the system. This focus could also be interpreted as a paranoid delusion, but Davies counters this by the Archives Clerk's presence, he is a witness to the influence of the system, which helps convince the reader of the validity of Raymond Davies' view. It is interesting to note how this interpretation can be supported by some of the research materials I used during the writing of this essay. I was interested to note that both the book The Kinks: Well Respected Men and the CD of Kinks early music that I purchased were released by the same corporation: Castle Communications.
At this point Malraux's Antimemoire is worth revisiting. Robert Elbaz suggests that in using a shifting narrative structure Malraux is "contributing to the production of a socially orientated literature: with the rejection of psyhologisation and the promotion of a language of action." (p119). The personal history and trivia of one man's life is too specific and particular to be of any use to a reader. Malraux therefore presents social history, comments on issues and trends instead because he feels that these are more relevant to the general reader and more worthy subjects for his own contemplation. The theme of a controlled society that Davies creates with the Corporation is a candidate for the transcendental-historical phenomena that Malraux is claimed to have been interested in. By examining this wider theme in his autobiography Ray Davies goes beyond the personal and gives the book a relevance that Malraux might have approved of.
In light of his desire for success it is interesting to consider the negative light in which Ray Davies portrays his situation at the end of X-Ray. He is alone, seemingly without friends or a partner. Konk, the studio complex owned by the Kinks, is now his home and it is described as follows, "There was an uncanny dead feeling about the place, which was festooned in cobwebs and dirt" (p6). While he does not mention any of the events subsequent to 1973 he gives the impression that the early success has deserted him. As an embodiment of this failure Ray Davies keeps referring to the figure of Julie Finkle, a female character he mentions but who is never wholly defined. At one point she is a girl he knew at school who was attracted to him, in another she is the audience that he did his drawing and painting for while at art school. Later in the book he whispers her name as he kisses the Archives Clerk. He also refers to her as "that one person to get you started...a muse" (p468). The impression created is of a lost love, an absence in his life that he has personified.
A final theme that deserves consideration is the one alluded to in the title X-Ray. As printed on the dust jacket and title page the X is in a larger font than Ray as if to emphasise it. Its connotations are many. It could be the person or thing that is unknown or undermined. This meaning fits well with the idea of autobiography as expose or revelation of the true self. X can also refer the crossing out of words, the negation of something as wrong or an error. Perhaps Davies is marking his life and finds that he "got it wrong". Then there is X-rated, for there is some explicit sexual content in the book.
While all these meanings could be argued a more obvious approach is to look at the uses of the word X-Ray within the book itself. X-Rays are used by doctors to diagnose Raymond Davies' condition. They are first used when Raymond is suffering from back pain and his family doctor wants to know the reason for this. Raymond says that he was worried that the doctors would find that he was deformed, though as he became more accustomed to his fate he
"...wanted physical evidence, a sign, something for the world to see. An X-ray. But even an X-ray showed only the bones, the physical inside. The soul is not visible, the soul, the one part of a person that cannot be scene, or touched." (p27)
When the specialist views the X-Rays he advises the young Davies that he can never play sports again. In his quest to win more school races he ignores this advice, suffering the pain in order to achieve success.
Near the end of X-Ray Raymond Davies dies, after which the Archives Clerk receives a package of his papers. Amongst these is the x-ray of Davies' injured back. This causes the Archives Clerk to muse:
"I felt that while the physical world can see two people, the outer and the inner person, there is also a third person, a spiritual driving force that constantly intermingles with the first and second person. Intangible and totally inseparable". (p419)
In discussing the truth to be found in pictures Davies makes a point that succinctly states his intention with X-Ray: "Why reduce life to a series of images that shows a bias towards the objective when a person is has spent his entire lifetime creating subjective, ambiguous images." (p330) In "X-Ray "Davies gives us some basic facts and various anecdotes to keep the fans happy, mixes in a social theme to add weight to the work but we are left with only the vaguest clues as to who Ray Davies is. He presents himself as a mystery because in his view the essence that makes up his identity, in his opinion, cannot be defined. It must be add that Davies does not want it to be defined, playing with the conventions of autobiography and the expectations of the readers. He once again attempts to win by playing by his own rules.
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