Course weds literature, marriage in global context

Taiwo Osinubi is taking his students on an unconventional tour around the world, but no luggage is necessary – only books and the subject of marriage.

Among the newest faculty addition to the Department of English and Writing Studies, Osinubi is teaching Global Literatures, a new course meant to cover topics formerly addressed in Postcolonial Literature classes.

“There has been a shift from postcolonial to global literatures. Anglophone writers can be global, from having moved around the world, and maybe they’re not postcolonial, or British, or American,” Osinubi explained.

He said the idea of bringing together authors and texts from around the globe is broad and can present a challenge.

“There are many ways to do it but I thought it might be better to look at something more specific, more concrete that the students think they know, at the centre of the course and to track that through different countries and different writer, Osinubi explained.

“We’re looking at writers from different countries and different times, the U.S., Romania, South Africa, Nigeria, China. We’re looking at how those countries have created different marriage laws and how they’ve thought to shape society through marriage laws, laws around divorce, who can marry, who can’t marry, who can marry whom. You’d be astounded at what you can find out.”

Looking at the global connections some writers have, what they take and what they leave behind in their migrations, gives students a ‘bottom-up’ version of history, he noted. Focusing on marriage is just one way of learning the multi-faceted histories and cultures of the countries and texts on the course syllabus.

The class has generated great discussions, Osinubi continued, noting that texts not on the syllabus, and even popular culture, has come into the classroom for discussion, with students wanting to talk about Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.

It’s great the students are grasping the concepts at the heart of the course and reflecting on them, he said.

“In history, marriage has always meant specific forms of subjection for women in particular – you get married, you give up rights, you cannot inherit from parents. So we’re looking at what happens, what else does marriage do? It is one of the most profound ways human beings are (controlled) by the law – it’s a legal contract,” Osinubi continued.

With examples of slave narratives in which marriage was prohibited or controlled or Romanian texts discussing the social engineering of Nicolae Ceausescu in which the state controlled contraception and limited abortions, students get to see the ways in which marriage and associated marriage laws around the world have shaped history and cultural experience, he explained.

And here, connections and understandings are formed between texts countries and seemingly divergent histories. Children born into slavery are not so far removed from children in Romanian orphanages, born into diminished citizenship, he said, adding countries around the world have used marriage and reproductive laws to manage society.

“You can trace the connections between (cultural) practices that seem separate. Once you take marriage, you deal with families, states, and modernization. Marriage allows you to go to many different places,” Osinubi said.

Having come to Western last summer from the University of Montreal, his newest research project will focus on the subject of marriage. It’s a topic he arrived at in a roundabout way, Osinubi explained, having done his PhD dissertation on slavery in the novel and romantic aspects thereof, and having looked at travel and shipwreck narratives.

Marriage was the hub that somehow brought it all together. He hopes to further examine why that is and how it’s come to be.

“These (marriage) novels have all gone to different topics and different places – they have webs. The vision of marriage a country produces historically, you will find, isn’t isolated from larger constellations of social engineering, utopian visions and even practices about the quality of life humans should have,” Osinubi said.

“I’m delighted and happy with the course. It just began from an observation and I thought it would be interesting.”