Melville House: In an interview that you did a few years ago about Shakespeare’s Kitchen with BOMB, you said, “Being an elderly person, I want to write about the loss or partial loss of memory, so I’ve got myself a character who remembers nothing—an amnesiac.” Is Half the Kingdom the culmination of your interest in memory loss?
Lore Segal: Incidentally, one of the things that I’m going to find as I talk to you and as I will be talking: my facility with language is quite slower; [words are] much less available to me than [they were] ten years ago, twenty years ago. And that’s part of the experience, and that’s part of the conversation. When I went to speak in Austria some ten or twenty years ago I had the experience of speaking in German when my vocabulary was missing. I had the vocabulary of a ten-year-old. And now I have the same experience as an old person; my vocabulary is not necessarily available to me. And I think most people in my generation are now experiencing that. It’s sad. I miss it. I regret it.
MH: How does it affect the actual process of writing?
LS: It doesn’t affect writing very much, because I can put a holder. I can put three question marks—that means go back there and find the word. The other day I wanted to say “Charles Dickens” and he wasn’t available—but he came back a little bit later.
But in the course of conversation, I am now aware and even a little bit worried as I start a sentence; I wonder whether I’ll get to the end of it. [All I can do about this affliction] is say, maybe boringly: isn’t that interesting, what happens to language? That’s my defense.
We interviewed Lore Segal about her new novel Half the Kingdom, but I never expected answers as candid and wonderful as this.
I had so much fun transcribing this interview. She’s such a beautiful person.