"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.