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September, 2011

My visit to the “Brenner” Archives at Innsbruck


I paid a visit to the “Brenner” Archives (Forschung Institut Brenner-Archiv of the Innsbruck University), where all material left by K.F.Wolff is preserved. First of all, I must thank the personnel of the archives for their helpfulness and courtesy. Austria was a well-ordered country (as people well know at Trieste, where they had a chance to compare it with Italy), and it still is. The archive (as a consequence?) is very well-ordered and easy to consult; Wolff’s legacy is organized into 47 large boxes, each containing documents of the same type. A good catalogue is available on the web. Many boxes are devoted to the original manuscripts of his works, others to his mail, others yet to his notes, and several boxes, finally, to books, press clippings and various scientific documentation.


I obviously moved on prof. Kindl’s tracks, who had the chance to consult the archive thoroughly in the past. I had the näive hope to discover some detail that she might have missed. But things went differently.
Wolff himself, as a good Austrian, was a well-ordered person; unfortunately, he also was a poet, and  his archive, basically, was destined to his own consultation, not to posterity. Therefore I met, so to say, some serious difficulty.
The main one was that the guy wrote his notes in German cursive; I’ve got problems to understand German in block capitals, but the German cursive is completely different from the Latin handwriting and drove me just crazy (to get an idea, check here). Had he used Cyrillic (in block capitals), I sure would understand it better. Therefore my research, apart from the few sentences which were typed, or written in languages (and characters) other than German, was forcedly limited to looking for personal names and from them trying to reassemble with difficulty what the hell he might have told about them.

My first target was his mail: I was specially interested in Wolff’s relationship with Staudacher, the parish priest to whom we presumably owe the ethnologically most interesting part of the Fanes legend, including the Croda Rossa. Unfortunately I found nothing relevant: few lines filled with compliments and birthday wishes. It seems that they exchanged all their data during their several vis-à-vis meetings, and that nothing of them has remained in written form.
I also checked the correspondence with Scarsini, the Friulian amateur ethnologue, from whom Wolff received a collection of legends, and with Innerebner, the engineer from Bolzano who found pre-historical (?) remains on the Fanes Alps. While for the latter the situation is similar to what I described for Staudacher, I found something about Scarsini, even the text of a few legends, but unfortunately not his complete collection, that might have been rather interesting.

Then I examined Wolff’s notebooks. Again he shows being an Austrian as he compiled an unthinkable quantity of them, all of the same format, along a time span from 1903 to his death in 1966. On the contrary, he shows a poet in having mixed together the topics: notes taken on the ground with quotations from books, or scientific remarks. Only he, who had written them himself, was (maybe) able to find there what he needed with ease. But, as I’ve just stated, his notebooks were not made to be consulted by others.
Anyway, the first and most important notebooks written on the field, i.e. the notes taken at the beginning of the XX century during his trips in the Dolomites and surrounding areas, talking to people and taking note of their answers and of the informations they provided, show to be incomplete by large. We have his own witness on this point, by the way: he brought several notebooks along to the field during WWI, and many of them never came back home. Taking for granted that my incomprehension of German cursive might have made me miss some important data (but I don’t believe having missed much), it really seems that informations about several of the most well-known and important legends (and everything that concerns the Kingdom of Fanes), either never were transcribed in his notebooks, or were unfortunately lost.
Under this aspect I can therefore witness that prof. Kindl neglected nothing: all notes and infos that Wolff reported in his notebooks about Ladinian legends, duly appear also in either book of her Kritische Lektüre.

In Wolff’s notebooks there are lots of notes instead, that concern place-names or other Ladinian words, carefully recorded by Wolff out of any reference to any specific tale, but that now we can find scattered hither and thither in his legends (Fanes included). This gives me the impression that Wolff not only – as he openly declared himself – could only retrieve scarce fragments of the old traditions, but – worse – that he took care to rebuild the tales using those Ladinian terms where he liked better, in order to lend, let us say, a fictive aura of authenticity to what he was writing.
The only – unpleasant – acceptable conclusion is therefore that NO detail of his tales can be considered as descending from tradition, unless its authenticity can be demonstrated otherways. And this includes, at least for now, all details of the whole Fanes legend. Exceptions may be those passages “out of context” (as for instance Ey-de-Net’s climb to mount Amariana, or the romance between Tsicuta and the King of Fanes) which sound too much astonishing and separated by the flow of the narrative sequence for having been inserted on purpose ex novo in the story, by a writer yet specially careful to safeguard what he defined the “spirit” of the tradition.
Anyway, hinting to a specially critical and sensitive point, about the Fanes’ social structure, their relationship with marmots, etc., today we have really nothing allowing to distinguish between what may have really been orally transmitted to us since antiquity, and what may have been inserted by Wolff just to fit in his personal picture of totemism and matriarchate.
All attempts to interpret the legend – including prof. Kindl’s one and of course my own – are therefore likely based on quite weak and uncertain elements. On my side, a deep revision is necessary, this site to begin with.