Castrating-production in Baumbach

The psychology of castration has always been inextricable from the philosophy of presence. As soon as one is castrated, one can never return to how one was. It is a strict dichotomy between absolute presence and absolute absence mediated by the absolute fear of castration. Two recent films from Noah Baumbach hint at a new conception of castration as production rather than stasis: Greenberg (2010) and Margot at the Wedding (2007). The position of the castrato is configured by the castrato itself. This configuration must be reappropriated with every action. If not, the castrato returns to a pre-castrating position in which the subject-position of the phallus is taken up again. (Of course, this position is not limited to a certain gender.)

The inflexion point of the two films comes by way of anecdote. Greenberg and Margot do not drive, but they forcefully assert that they can if they so choosed. Greenberg cites the amount of deaths from autmobile collisions as his reason for not driving; Margot lives in the city and prefers public transit. The inability to drive is the symbol of castration. Yet this symbol is proliferated across all other social engagements in the film. The title characters constantly affirm their position as castratos by isolating themselves. The few times they do interact with others results in emotional violence. This form of existential angst is not absent from their sex lives either. In every aspect of the films, castrating-production is represented as the desire for absence.

The movies follow different trajectories at this point. Greenberg can only decide to end castrating-production when he is high on cocaine. The film has an open conclusion where the spectator is left wondering if Greenberg’s relationship would last. Margot, on the other hand, halts production in a fit of rage when she decides to drive. Her driving is careless, not respecting the lines or signs of the road-system; it has been a long time since she had been territorialized. To her childrens’ dismay, she drives on and eventually makes it to the bus stop where she decides at the last minute to depart with her son. Her relationship is reconciled and one is led to believe that she is no longer producing her own castration. So, every moment that castration is produced holds the implicit possibility of throwing a cog in the gears and ending production, for however long one sees fit.

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