Ghosts Are Only Human

Katja Brunner

German, Der Gesunde Menschenversand, Lucerne, 2021

“possible purpose

to change the aggregate state of one’s own grief”

“Everyday actions are meaningless ornaments of a suffering that I squeezed out of my body between my legs and that found form in you”

Katja Brunner - Geister sind auch nur Menschen

The two spoken texts by Katja Brunner are both drama and word performance. They are just as suitable for the theatre stage as for private reading. In “Ghosts Are Only Human”, she furiously tells of the powerlessness and vulnerability of people on the margins.

Katja Brunner loves direct, unadorned language, which she sometimes drives forward in rapid gestures with loud majuscules, sometimes haltingly, stuttering with sentence stubs and snippets of dialogue. Her text is “like the turning of a creaking merry-go-round”, she writes. With a cutting view of all things human, she creates little dramas without an actual plot. Under the demanding heading “To Change the Aggregate State of One’s Own Grief”, the author spans a space between the birth and death of a child in the first of the two spoken texts. The view of its conception is of crackling coldness and already foreshadows the final auto-aggression. The child being is placed in the world, then in the corner, relieved of adult care.

The main emphasis in the second text, “Ghosts Are Only Human”, is on the end, death, or more precisely: withering away, falling into decline, passing away. One of the protagonists only wanted to go home, and not to the home, where she suddenly finds herself. This small shift contains the tragic fate that Brunner captures in her furious text. In it, a dichotomy becomes palpable that pairs rage with powerlessness. The degrading daily routine in the old people’s home cannot be alleviated, either because of the well-rehearsed care routines or because of the stubbornness of the old people, who have become insensitive to genuine care. There is bitching and complaining on both sides, so that gratitude and contentment are lost.

With her permanently fraying language, struggling for words, Katja Brunner describes humiliating situations and tears open the existential cracks and wounds again and again. Impulsively and urgently she draws attention to the outrageous conditions, she speaks out what is silently accepted or only casually perceivable. In doing so, she exaggerates with a passion that is always accompanied by a good deal of humour, whereby the ambiguity and intensity of her texts is best expressed in its loud intonation. The overlapping of bitter sarcasm and defiant cheerfulness is a nice challenge, especially for the translation.

Text by Beat Mazenauer

Geister sind auch nur Menschen
Der Gesunde Menschenversand, Lucerne
Translation rights
Milena Asencio, milena@booksagent.frh
Publication date
January 2021


Katja Brunner

Katja Brunner was born in Ticino in 1991. Her plays have won several awards, have been translated into many languages and have been performed on numerous stages around the world. She often works with other authors, including Martina Clavadetscher. With her musician Sophie Aeberli, she performs as LORETTA SHAPIRO in various contexts of the German-speaking literary landscape.

Photo: © Rachel Israela