Writings of the Great War: the censor Leo Spitzer and "Italienische Kriegsgefangenenbriefe"

Leo Spitzer (1887-1960)
There is also a "silent explosion" occurring during the First World War. It is the explosion of writing, at all levels, in many forms, in all the classes of the population. Historians might have told the story of the war from this perspective of letters, of big masses of population writing letters and postcards (the stumbling grammar, the influence of spoken language on the syntax, the relationship between contents and the awareness of undergoing the censorship).
And someone started this venture. Well, not any Tom, Dick and Harry could do this: the man we're introducing now was one the most brilliant minds of his time. The most of Italian school books faces the above mentioned topic starting from a basic book of the Austrian romanist Leo Spitzer, author of an incomparable study on the letters that Italian war prisoners wrote. Spitzer was a censor enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian army and he was able to turn his war experience into one of the unforgettable studies blossoming after the end of the war. The book he published in 1921, Italienische Kriegsgefangenenbriefe. Materialien zu einer Charakteristik der volkstümlichen italienischen Korrespondenz, was revolutionary both from the point of view of the approach and from the one of the subject.

It is logical and normal to start this unit dedicated to the writing outcomes of World War I bringing him back to mind along with his lucky book. At a first deep glance, the innovation coming with this work is already given in its structure. See for instance the titles of the chapters and you get, already systemized by Spitzer's analysis, the typical situations (frames) to which the huge quantity of letters refers: how to start and to end a letter, how to say goodbye, the embarassment for the bad writing, the distance, the dream, children and wives, the resignation, the wait for peace, the requests for money and clothing, the relationship with censorship, the starvation, the humour etc. His analysis was the origin of a once in a century book. We still have difficulty in finding good disciples around: it's really a pity, because in Spitzer's book everybody could track the source a new discipline that we might call the "philology of the Great War". Wouldn't it be by far more interesting to investigate the war starting from the huge collection of available texts instead of daydreaming about the newest war relic?