Ill Seen, Ill Said: The Deleuzian Stutter Meets the Stroop Effect in Diana Thater’s Colorvision Series (2016)


  • Colin Gardner University of California, Santa Barbara, USA


Gilles Deleuze, J. Ridley Stroop, Stutter, Jasper Johns, Joseph Kosuth, Diana Thater, Hjelmslev


In his essay ‘He Stuttered’, Deleuze demonstrates how a dominant language might be ‘minorized’ from within by placing it within a constant state of disequilibrium or bifurcation, by making it vibrate or stutter, creating, as he puts it, “an affective and intensive language, and no longer an affectation of the one who speaks”.

But what if we were to destabilize this disequilibrium still further by creating a rupture between language and sensation, between color and space, stasis and movement? Instead of a Saussurian-based semiotics based on the arbitrary nature of the sign, Deleuze and Guattari turn to the Danish linguist, Louis Hjelmslev (1899-1965), whose system abandons all privileged reference and instead treats language as an organization of mass/matter, which more readily opens it up to the discourse of painting-as-flesh.

Drawing upon the painterly vocabulary of Jasper Johns, amongst others, Los Angeles-based film and video artist Diana Thater explores this pattern of interference or inhibition—a form of “stutter that stutters”—in Colorvision (2016), which consists of eight individual monitor pieces, each displaying the name of a color along with a bouquet of flowers in a different, complimentary, color. As in her previous works, Thater uses the colors of the video spectrum: red, green, blue (primaries); cyan, magenta, yellow (secondaries); purple and orange (tertiary). The word “RED”, for example, appears with cyan flowers, while the word “CYAN” appears with red flowers.

This slippage between reading and perceiving is based on a series of neurological tests developed by the psychologist J. Ridley Stroop (“The Stroop Effect”) who discovered that when the meaning of a word and its color are congruent (e.g. the word BLUE written in blue color), it is easy to recognize and ‘read’ the actual color of the word). Conversely, when the meaning of the word is incongruent with the color, such as BLUE written in red color, it creates a conflict between the color and the word’s meaning and takes slightly longer to read. Conversely, it is also difficult to name the color “red” when it constitutes the word “BLUE”. This conflict between word-recognition (which is faster) and color recognition (which is slower) requires extra processing time for the brain to resolve, further exacerbated by Thater’s monitor works because we also have to negotiate the vibrating movement of the image as a whole.

This may be a problem to be solved in psychological terms but of course from an artist’s and Deleuze’s point of view, this aporia between reason and sensation is the very definition of a multiplicity: “Creative stuttering is what makes language grow from the middle, like grass; it is what makes language a rhizome instead of a tree, what puts language in perpetual disequilibrium: Ill Seen, Ill Said (content and expression). Being well spoken has never been either the distinctive feature or the concern of great writers”, or, indeed of great artists who exploit the stutter to create an even greater incidence of cognitive-perceptual skidding.




How to Cite

Gardner , C. (2018). Ill Seen, Ill Said: The Deleuzian Stutter Meets the Stroop Effect in Diana Thater’s Colorvision Series (2016). Cinema: Journal of Philosophy and the Moving Image, (10), 111–128. Retrieved from