Skip to main content


Fred Moten: Sonnet, Soliloquy, Insovereignty: Lessons from Hank Cinq

The Lionel Trilling Seminar

dateMarch 3, 2022 timeThursday, 6:15pm–8:00pm EST location Barnard Hall, Sulzberger Parlor, Barnard CollegeLimited seating. Registration required. See important details below. locationVirtual Event
  • This event will be livestreamed and open to the public. Limited in-person seating is available for Columbia and Barnard ID holders. Registration required.

  • The Center for Jazz Studies
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
email address [email protected]
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
B&W photo of man sitting at piano, dramatically lit from above, with title, date, time, and participants of event

The Trilling Seminar in March 2022 will be given by Fred Moten in collaboration with Columbia University's yearlong campus-wide festival Such Sweet Thunder: Ellington Plays Shakespeare.

Under the influence of Ellington and Shakespeare we are all in danger of becoming hyper-sibilant fools. Sovereignty, soliloquy, sonnet (sonata), (in)sovereignty, sound, sequence (sequins), syncopation and self(lessness) are all over our minds because of Henry V or, as his friends call him, Hank Cinq. In addition to lisps becoming more naked and emphatic with every hissing breath, certain obsessions of, which these words bear, become more apparent as well. The obsessions are physical and sociological problems, which will fall under the rubric of chance and incalculability and we’ll need some guidance (from W. E. B. Du Bois and Stephen Booth) to be able to discern how indeterminacy and unruliness are the heart of the matter of the sonnet and their non-binary sister, the soliloquy. We might begin to consider the force of the solo in the soliloquy but if we do it’s because that force is the sound of the unalone and the non-aligned. The single-line’s striational transgression of the line is itself striated, an involuntary muscular shredding of the sonnet that might be said to operate as a kind of anticipatory anti-coloniality in the sonnet, a resistance to constraint and control, Hank’s revelation and undoing of himself, which it is ours to deepen, extend, and swing.

Fred Moten is concerned with social movement, aesthetic experiment and black study and has has written a number of books of poetry and criticism that try to approach these matters. The latest of which – co-authored with Stefano Harney – is called All Incomplete. In addition, Moten has worked with many other artists, artist collectives, and study groups, including Arika, the Center for Convivial Research and Autonomy, Gerald Cleaver & Brandon Lopez, Renee Gladman, Renée Green, the Institute for Physical Sociality, the Jazz Study Group, Jennie C. Jones, Le Mardi Gras Listening Collective, The Otolith Group, William Parker and Wu Tsang. Moten teaches performance studies and comparative literature at New York University.


George Lewis is the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University, where he serves as Area Chair in Composition and member of the faculty in Historical Musicology. A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, and a member of the Akademie der Künste Berlin, Lewis’s other honors include a MacArthur Fellowship (2002), a Guggenheim Fellowship (2015), and the Doris Duke Artist Award (2019). In the 2020-21 academic year he was a Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. Lewis studied composition with Muhal Richard Abrams at the AACM School of Music and trombone with Dean Hey. A member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) since 1971, Lewis's work in electronic and computer music, computer-based multimedia installations, and notated and improvisative forms is documented on more than 150 recordings, published by Edition Peters. His work has been presented by ensembles worldwide, and he is widely regarded as a pioneer of interactive computer music, creating programs that improvise in concert with human musicians.

His book, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (University of Chicago Press, 2008) received the American Book Award and the American Musicological Society’s Music in American Culture Award. Lewis and Benjamin Piekut are the co-editors of the two-volume Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies (2016) An Honorary Member of the American Musicological Society, Lewis holds honorary doctorates from the University of Edinburgh, New College of Florida, and Harvard University.

P.A. Skantze is a theatre director, writer and composer working in Italy and London. Reader in Performance Practices at Roehampton University, Skantze is the author of Stillness in Motion in the Seventeenth-Century Theatre (Routledge 2003) and Itinerant Spectator/Itinerant Spectacle (Punctum 2013). Recent ‘spoken theory’ works include ‘Shake That Thing: Shakespeare and the Dark Lady of the Sonic,’ Shakespeare and the ‘philosophy of sway,’ as well as published articles on sound, black critical studies, the Undercommons and gender. She is working on a New York production of her musical STACKS; an opera libretto based on Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea books, and performance of her 27 Lockdown Sonnets. Following her staged textual interventions for the opera Falstaff at the National Theatre of Croatia in 2018, she is creating a performance that moves between spoken play and sung opera, Scoring Macbeth, at the National Theatre of Croatia.