This work is a poetic tour de force in which Mann shows how much information can be lost when language is written down. Intonation, cadence, volume, emphasis, pause, breathing, and so much nonverbal information infuses the recorded vocal performances of these texts that the written texts pale by comparison. To try to represent Mann’s Australian accent, rhythms, and pauses in writing would’ve given E. E. Cummings nightmares— and he was a master at encoding speech patterns on the page (see [Buffalo Bill ‘s] for an example).
Here’s why: Read the following text from “watching words change meaning,” noting how long it takes to read out loud: “an adjectival vIctim fetish of How to stop the nail.”
Now listen to this audio clip, preferably with headphones or loud speakers, and notice how much information is in the pause. How do you write that down?
Mann provides access to both written and audio texts in a minimalist interface that takes a little getting used to— both online and in the iOS app. It invites clicking around, which results in fascinatingly incomprehensible speech, as the audio files become layered and words jumble together. The great thing about this layering is that, while we lose individual words and their meanings, we gain a heightened sense of the rhythms and musicality of Mann’s speech.
What’s it about? Read and listen to it for yourself! If it’s any help, here’s a Wordle generated from the text in “watching words change meaning,” which should at least give you an idea of his most commonly used words.