Diane Rothenberg: The Economic Memories of Harry Watt (Part One)

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 7:31 AM
The Setting

We first met Harry Watt in December, 1967. Stanley Diamond prepared a letter for us to carry along and telephoned ahead to introduce us. Diamond was interested in the experiments in translation that my husband, Jerome Rothenberg, was doing and thought that a meeting with some of the singers of the Allegany Seneca, a group among whom Diamond had worked, might be conducive to further explorations in translation. Harry Watt received us in his warm house on a very snowy evening and, because of his fond memories of Diamond, made an effort to acquaint us with the community. We went back several weeks later and the next summer rented a barely converted gas station just outside of the Steamburg relocation area. During that summer, Jerry engaged in productive translation projects with several of the leading singers and songmakers, and our relations with many people intensified and expanded. Toward the end of the summer we were honored by clan adoptions in the Longhouse, and Harry Watt became my uncle in the Blue Heron clan.

We returned regularly to western New York in the following years to visit, to participate in ceremonies and to talk with friends. Some of the best talk was with Harry Watt. We would meet at his house, or around his sister’s table, or, in better weather, at the old house, several hundred yards away through the woods, where Harry Watt and his wife had their gardens and where he most liked to be. This was the house that he had preserved when the forced relocation in 1965 caused by the building of the Kinzua Dam required that everyone occupying a house within the flood plain move. The misery of the time of removal was vividly felt, and the new houses generally resented. Harry Watt’s old house was the almost singular representative of what had been a very recently transformed way of life and, as such, conveyed layers of meaning and emotion that we could hardly begin to appreciate. It was located high on a bank overlooking the Allegheny River, with the gardens on one side and the woods all around, and Harry Watt would point to places when he talked about his childhood, about herbal knowledge, about encounters with animals. He talked about his experiences at the local Indian school and his running away from it for a perceived injustice, about his experiences traveling around the country doing construction work, about the skills and men involved in his work, about his encounters with Indians in other parts of the country, about Indian sovereignty, and about his hopes and fears concerning a retention of Indian identity by those who were losing the Seneca language and ceremonial knowledge. He talked about schemes for teaching the old ways, about his respect for those who were educated and knowledgeable in those ways, about his own sense of deprivation in having chosen paths which led him away from an early immersion in Seneca language and culture, onto his return in his later years with an eagerness and a sense of responsibility toward a goal of Seneca cultural preservation. Harry Watt’s dedication in these matters was essential to the smooth running of the Longhouse Religion and, most importantly, to the preparation for the annual cycle of Six Nations meetings which preserved and carried the message of the prophet Handsome Lake throughout the intertribal circuit of believers. He was a model of a traditional Iroquois peace chief (although he did not have such a title): dignified, courteous, reasonable, personally available and generous, highly intelligent, and responsible to the collective. For these, and many other reasons, strangers were sent to see Harry Watt, and he was accustomed to representing his community to visitors – journalists, scholars, students. We witnessed many of these encounters and grew familiar with some of the regular turns the interviews would take, so that, over the years, we heard him discourse many times on some of the same subjects. Two of his favorites were religious epistemology and working, and I began to feel that I could “hum along” when he introduced one of these topics, although I tried not to seem inattentive and not to interrupt.

In June, 1972, we rented a house In Salamanca – on the Allegany Seneca reservation – for the beginning of a new project, this time the field work toward my dissertation. We had no clear idea of how long we would stay, but the work was going well and there was no other place we needed or where we wanted more to be, so we stayed for two years and left with great regret. My own work turned more and more toward historical research and archives and away from a systematic accumulation and recording of fieldwork notes. I regret now the tapering off of these detailed notes; when I reread them I hardly recognize my own voice, as if I were reading the experiences of some other person. Our social interactions and participation were intense, but became less instrumental, and the “participant” activity quite assuaged my early 1970’s discomfort with the “observation” part of the anthropological enterprise.

Harry Watt frequently remarked that “people say I should write a book.” I had heard that statement often enough to feel some impatience whenever I heard it again, but also to feel that maybe he really should tell the story of his life in writing and that I should help facilitate that ambition. While it also seemed to me that hearing a systematic account of life on the reservation at the turn of the twentieth century might be of use to my research, I was already more focused on the turn of the nineteenth century, so my own goals were of secondary concern in this project. I offered to come around with the tape recorder that I rarely used, to transcribe his dictation, and to collaborate with him on editing it for potential publication. It seemed like a tidy project.

On November 16, 1972, I sat on the sofa in Harry Watt’s living room, hunkered down for some serious descriptions of his early life on the reservation. He sat in his rocker, eyes slightly closed in an attitude of remembering and, to my distress, began, “When I was a boy, we really knew how to work.” I had heard that many times before and I was sure that was not the way to start this project. I tried to divert him, to suggest he talk about his grandparents, his memories of being a little child, events and people in his family. He responded briefly to my inquiries, but seemed determined to continue talking, in what seemed to me a platitudinous way, about working. The tape recorder ran on and he talked on, while I sat enveloped in a cloud of frustration. When he tired of talking, I turned the machine off, went home and transcribed what was on the tope, gave him a carbon of the transcription the next day, and never mentioned the autobiography again. My copy was filed away, that other filing system in my head contained only a record of my frustration, amended slightly by my feeling of superior wisdom about what a real autobiography should be.

About five years later, friends who were editing an issue of a conceptual-art magazine, proposed that contributors from various disciplines should consider the subject of memory from the perspective of their own work. My experience with Harry Watt’s autobiography still rankled, and so I began an essay exploring the generalizing tendency of the elderly in relation to their own pasts and the related problem of using oral history as data. After I had completed several paragraphs, I remembered that I had the transcript in my files and thought to search it out for relevant examples.

Harry Watt’s words flew out at me as a reproach both for my incomprehension and for the opportunity I had missed. The organizing principle of “work” was for him a primary value and a life metaphor. It was through working that he defined himself and it was through the core of economic behavior that the rest of life was elaborated. Because I did not open my ears and my mind, as the Seneca invocation directs one to do, I missed the opportunity to know more about it. The transcript which exists represents in small measure an homage to the man who died in 1986 and is included here in full to convey both the spoken cadences of the oral delivery and the richness of ethnographic detail.

(to be continued: Part Two, The Text; Part Three, The Commentary)

[Originally published in Dialectical Anthropology : Essays in Honor of Stanley Diamond, edited by Christine Ward Gailey, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1992. A professional anthropolgist & an active player in the emerging discourse around an ethnopoetics, Diane Rothenberg is also the co-editor of Symposium of the Whole: A Range of Discourse Toward an Ethnopoetics (University of California Press, 1983) and the author of Friends Like These: An Ethnohistorical Analysis (University Microfilms International, 1976. Copies of her book, Mothers of the Nation, in which this essay also appeared, are still available through Ta’wil Books, joris@albany.edu. Another essay from the same collection, "Corn Soup & Fry Bread," was posted earlier on December 5, 2008.]

0 Response to 'Diane Rothenberg: The Economic Memories of Harry Watt (Part One)'

Post a Comment

Tattoos Picture Page 1 Tattoos Picture Page 2 Tattoos Picture Page 3 Tattoos Picture Page 4 Tattoos Picture Page 5 Tattoos Picture Page 6 Tattoos Picture Page 7 Tattoos Picture Page 8 Tattoos Picture Page 9 Tattoos Picture Page 10 Tattoos Picture Page 11 Tattoos Picture Page 12 Tattoos Picture Page 13 Tattoos Picture Page 14 Tattoos Picture Page 15 Tattoos Picture Page 16 Tattoos Picture Page 17 Tattoos Picture Page 18 Tattoos Picture Page 19 Tattoos Picture Page 20 Tattoos Picture Page 21 Tattoos Picture Page 22 Tattoos Picture Page 23 Tattoos Picture Page 24 Tattoos Picture Page 25 Tattoos Picture Page 26 Tattoos Picture Page 27 Tattoos Picture Page 28 Tattoos Picture Page 29 Tattoos Picture Page 30 Tattoos Picture Page 31 Tattoos Picture Page 32 Tattoos Picture Page 33 Tattoos Picture Page 34 Tattoos Picture Page 35 Tattoos Picture Page 36 Tattoos Picture Page 37 Tattoos Picture Page 38 Tattoos Picture Page 39 Tattoos Picture Page 40 Tattoos Picture Page 41 Tattoos Picture Page 42 Tattoos Picture Page 43 Tattoos Picture Page 44 Tattoos Picture Page 45 Tattoos Picture Page 46 Tattoos Picture Page 47 Tattoos Picture Page 48 Tattoos Picture Page 49 Tattoos Picture Page 50 Tattoos Picture Page 51 Tattoos Picture Page 52 Tattoos Picture Page 53 Tattoos Picture Page 54 Tattoos Picture Page 55 Tattoos Picture Page 56 Tattoos Picture Page 57 Tattoos Picture Page 58 Tattoos Picture Page 59 Tattoos Picture Page 60 Tattoos Picture Page 61 Tattoos Picture Page 62 Tattoos Picture Page 63 Tattoos Picture Page 64 Tattoos Picture Page 65 Tattoos Picture Page 66 Tattoos Picture Page 67 Tattoos Picture Page 68 Tattoos Picture Page 69 Tattoos Picture Page 70 Tattoos Picture Page 71 Tattoos Picture Page 72 Tattoos Picture Page 73 Tattoos Picture Page 74 Tattoos Picture Page 75 Tattoos Picture Page 76 Tattoos Picture Page 77 Tattoos Picture Page 78 Tattoos Picture Page 79 Tattoos Picture Page 80 Tattoos Picture Page 81 Tattoos Picture Page 82 Tattoos Picture Page 83 Tattoos Picture Page 84 Tattoos Picture Page 85 Tattoos Picture Page 86 Tattoos Picture Page 87 Tattoos Picture Page 88 Tattoos Picture Page 89 Tattoos Picture Page 90 Tattoos Picture Page 91 Tattoos Picture Page 92 Tattoos Picture Page 93 Tattoos Picture Page 94 Tattoos Picture Page 95 Tattoos Picture Page 96 Tattoos Picture Page 97 Tattoos Picture Page 98 Tattoos Picture Page 99 Tattoos Picture Page 100 Tattoos Picture Page 101 Tattoos Picture Page 102 Tattoos Picture Page 103 Tattoos Picture Page 104 Tattoos Picture Page 105 Tattoos Picture Page 106 Tattoos Picture Page 107 Tattoos Picture Page 108 Tattoos Picture Page 109 Tattoos Picture Page 110 Tattoos Picture Page 111 Tattoos Picture Page 112 Tattoos Picture Page 113 Tattoos Picture Page 114 Tattoos Picture Page 115 Tattoos Picture Page 116 Tattoos Picture Page 117 Tattoos Picture Page 118 Tattoos Picture Page 119 Tattoos Picture Page 120 Luxury Villa and Home Page 1 Luxury Villa and Home Page 2 Luxury Villa and Home Page 3 Luxury Villa and Home Page 4 Luxury Villa and Home Page 5 Luxury Villa and Home Page 6 Luxury Villa and Home Page 7 Luxury Villa and Home Page 8 Luxury Villa and Home Page 9 Luxury Villa and Home Page 10 Luxury Villa and Home Page 11 Luxury Villa and Home Page 12 Luxury Villa and Home Page 13 Luxury Villa and Home Page 14 Luxury Villa and Home Page 15 Luxury Villa and Home Page 16 Luxury Villa and Home Page 17 Luxury Villa and Home Page 18 Luxury Villa and Home Page 19 Luxury Villa and Home Page 20 Luxury Villa and Home Page 21 Luxury Villa and Home Page 22 Luxury Villa and Home Page 23 Luxury Villa and Home Page 24 Luxury Villa and Home Page 25 Luxury Villa and Home Page 26 Luxury Villa and Home Page 27 Luxury Villa and Home Page 28 Luxury Villa and Home Page 29 Luxury Villa and Home Page 30 Luxury Villa and Home Page 31 Luxury Villa and Home Page 32 Luxury Villa and Home Page 33 Luxury Villa and Home Page 34 Luxury Villa and Home Page 35 Luxury Villa and Home Page 36 Luxury Villa and Home Page 37 Luxury Villa and Home Page 38 Luxury Villa and Home Page 39 Luxury Villa and Home Page 40 Luxury Villa and Home Page 41 Luxury Villa and Home Page 42 Luxury Villa and Home Page 43 Luxury Villa and Home Page 44 Luxury Villa and Home Page 45 Luxury Villa and Home Page 46 Luxury Villa and Home Page 47 Luxury Villa and Home Page 48 Luxury Villa and Home Page 49 Luxury Villa and Home Page 50 Luxury Villa and Home Page 51 Luxury Villa and Home Page 52 Luxury Villa and Home Page 53 Luxury Villa and Home Page 54 Luxury Villa and Home Page 55 Luxury Villa and Home Page 56 Luxury Villa and Home Page 57 Luxury Villa and Home Page 58 Luxury Villa and Home Page 59 Luxury Villa and Home Page 60 Luxury Villa and Home Page 61 Luxury Villa and Home Page 62 Luxury Villa and Home Page 63 Luxury Villa and Home Page 64 Luxury Villa and Home Page 65 Luxury Villa and Home Page 66 Luxury Villa and Home Page 67 Luxury Villa and Home Page 68 Luxury Villa and Home Page 69 Luxury Villa and Home Page 70 Luxury Villa and Home Page 71 Luxury Villa and Home Page 72 Luxury Villa and Home Page 73 Luxury Villa and Home Page 74 Luxury Villa and Home Page 75 Luxury Villa and Home Page 76 Luxury Villa and Home Page 77 Luxury Villa and Home Page 78 Luxury Villa and Home Page 79 Luxury Villa and Home Page 80 Luxury Villa and Home Page 81 Luxury Villa and Home Page 82 Luxury Villa and Home Page 83 Luxury Villa and Home Page 84 Luxury Villa and Home Page 85 Luxury Villa and Home Page 86 Luxury Villa and Home Page 87 Luxury Villa and Home Page 88 Luxury Villa and Home Page 89 Luxury Villa and Home Page 90 Luxury Villa and Home Page 91 Luxury Villa and Home Page 92 Luxury Villa and Home Page 93 Luxury Villa and Home Page 94 Luxury Villa and Home Page 95 Luxury Villa and Home Page 96 Luxury Villa and Home Page 97 Luxury Villa and Home Page 98 Luxury Villa and Home Page 99 Famous People Page 1 Famous People Page 2 Famous People Page 3 Famous People Page 4 Famous People Page 5 Famous People Page 6 Famous People Page 7 Famous People Page 8 Famous People Page 9 Famous People Page 10 Famous People Page 11 Famous People Page 12 Famous People Page 13 Famous People Page 14 Famous People Page 15 Famous People Page 16 Famous People Page 17 Famous People Page 18 Famous People Page 19 Famous People Page 20 Famous People Page 21 Famous People Page 22 Famous People Page 23 Famous People Page 24 Famous People Page 25 Famous People Page 26 Famous People Page 27 Famous People Page 28 Famous People Page 29 Famous People Page 30 Famous People Page 31 Famous People Page 32 Famous People Page 33 Famous People Page 34 Famous People Page 35 Famous People Page 36 Famous People Page 37 Famous People Page 38 Famous People Page 39 Famous People Page 40 Famous People Page 41 Famous People Page 42 Famous People Page 43 Famous People Page 44 Famous People Page 45 Famous People Page 46 Famous People Page 47 Famous People Page 48 Famous People Page 49 Famous People Page 50 Famous People Page 51 Famous People Page 52 Famous People Page 53 Famous People Page 54 Famous People Page 55 Famous People Page 56 Famous People Page 57 Famous People Page 58 Famous People Page 59 Famous People Page 60 Famous People Page 61 Famous People Page 62 Famous People Page 63 Famous People Page 64 Famous People Page 65 Famous People Page 66 Famous People Page 67 Famous People Page 68 Famous People Page 69 Famous People Page 70 Famous People Page 71 Famous People Page 72 Famous People Page 73 Famous People Page 74 Famous People Page 75 Famous People Page 76 Famous People Page 77 Famous People Page 78 Famous People Page 79 Famous People Page 80 Famous People Page 81 Famous People Page 82 Famous People Page 83 Famous People Page 84 Famous People Page 85 Famous People Page 86 Famous People Page 87 Famous People Page 88 Famous People Page 89 Famous People Page 90 Famous People Page 91 Famous People Page 92 Famous People Page 93 Famous People Page 94 Famous People Page 95 Famous People Page 96 Famous People Page 97 Famous People Page 98 Famous People Page 99 Famous People Page 100 Famous People Page 101 Famous People Page 102 Famous People Page 103 Famous People Page 104 Famous People Page 105 Famous People Page 106 Famous People Page 107 Famous People Page 108 Famous People Page 109 Famous People Page 110 Famous People Page 111 Famous People Page 112 Famous People Page 113 Famous People Page 114 Famous People Page 115 Famous People Page 116 Famous People Page 117 Famous People Page 118 Famous People Page 119 Famous People Page 120