Public defence in Comparative Literature: Pedro Atã

Title: Surprise Between Media, Minds and World: A Peircean process semiotic approach.
Subject: Comparative Literature
Faculty: Faculty of Arts and Humanities
Date: Monday 14 December 2020, at 1:00 pm
Place: Via Zoom:
External reviewer: Professor Kate Maxwell, University of Tromsø, Norway
Examining committee:
Associate Professor Peer Bundgaard, Aarhus University, Denmark, Associate Professor Asunción López Varela, Complutense University of Madrid, Spain, Professor Jordan Zlatev, Lund University
Chairperson: Professor Lars Elleström, Linnaeus University
Supervisor: Professor Lars Elleström, Linnaeus University
Examiner: Professor Kristina Danielsson, Linnaeus University
Spikning (thesis publication date): Monday 23 November at 10.15 am, electronic spikning in Diva

For those who can't join via Zoom, the public defence will be broadcast from a room at Växjö campus. Please contact for further information.

You can find the full thesis here: Surprise between media, minds and world: A Peircean process semiotic approach


Thesis abstract:

The central idea of this thesis is that the relationship between cognition, media and environments is regulated by surprise. The relationship between cognition, media and environments is a foundational problem for studies of cognition, culture and/or communication. This thesis introduces a view on this relationship, based on the concept of surprise within the framework of Peircean process semiotics. This framework consists of an original interpretation and application of Peirce's semiotics oriented by premises from process philosophy. Peirce's semiotics conceives of communication, cognition and one's relation to the environment in terms of triadic sign action, or semiosis. “Triadic” here expresses a skepticism of any dualism (mind/matter, subject/object, representation/represented object...). Process philosophy is a worldview and a mode of thinking based on the notion of dynamic and emergent processes. Peircean process semiotics entails two positions: semiotic processualism and active semiotic externalism. In semiotic processualism, semiosis is a dynamic and temporally distributed process. Semiosis interweaves present, past, and future according to a general and recursive temporality. In active semiotic externalism, agency in semiosis is external to the agents themselves, distributed in cognitive niches of organisms, artifacts, and environmental conditions.

Semiosis depends on and responds to an underlying logical situation of surprise. Surprise underlies and regulates temporal distribution of semiosis and the externalist agency of semiosis. I illustrate these notions with examples from Brazilian poetry. From the viewpoint of semiotic processualism, surprises are crises in the temporal distribution of semiosis, when the recursive time of habit and anticipation is disturbed. I illustrate this view with concrete poetry, a form of avant-garde poetry. Against versified poetry, Brazilian concrete poets pursued a crisis in the time of the poem and in the historical time of poetry. From the viewpoint of active semiotic externalism, surprises are shifts in agency, when the roles of agent and patient change within a cognitive niche. I illustrate this view with Repente, a tradition of improvisational and competitive poetic dialogues. Repente produces surprise for the poets and for the audience through the joint dynamic action of versification procedures, guitar playing and singing.


surprise, surprise in poetry, semiosis, cognitive niche construction, Peirce semiotics, process semiotics, distributed cognition, intermediality

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