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David Zweig: interpreters must not care about gaining attention for themselves.

David Zweig is a writer, lecturer and musician based in Brooklyn, New York. Invisibles (Penguin, June 2014), his first nonfiction book, is an expansion of his acclaimed Atlantic article “What Do Fact-Checkers and Anesthesiologists Have in Common?” As of winter 2014 translation rights have been sold in multiple countries in Asia and in Europe. Mr Zweig agreed to give interview in support of our project “It is cool being a translator”.

1. Please, in short tell our readers about yourself: place of birth, education, profession etc. May be some interesting facts or events from students' life, lectures, work etc.

I am the author of Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion. My writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications. My novel,Swimming Inside the Sun, was called a "terrific debut from a talented writer" by Kirkus. I lecture regularly at corporations, conferences, and universities about media, technology, and culture.

2. As I know you are a musician, writer of fiction books and also give lectures about the intersection of media, technology and psychology. How did you come to the idea of nonfiction book and why did you choose the profession of the interpreter?

I used to work as a magazine fact-checker. In that profession the better I did my job, the more I disappeared. I was fascinated by a job that had essentially the opposite relationship between work and recognition. After all, for most of us, the better we do our work, the more we get recognized for it. But despite no one being aware of when I was doing a good job, I found the work immensely rewarding and engaging. This is particularly intriguing because we live in a time when getting attention seems to be valued above nearly everything else. I began to think about what other professions might share the same inverse relationship between work and recognition. Simultaneous interpreters fit this description perfectly. My book Invisibles includes chapters on a number of other "invisible" professions, where professionals who are highly skilled, and whose work is critical to whatever endeavor they are a part of, go largely unnoticed by the public.

3. Can you please describe some facts or notions that you’ve discovered for yourself about the profession of interpreter while writing this book?

I call the chapter on interpreting "The Unlikely Adrenaline Junky" because the interpreter I profiled, a woman named Giulia Wilkins Ary who is an elite interpreter at the United Nations, was very unassuming and shy. And yet interpretation work is incredibly challenging and taxing on the mind. When Giulia and her colleagues are "in the zone" doing their work they experience a major hit of adrenaline. I, of course, give all sorts of interesting little-known facts about interpretation in general, what is happening in an interpreter's mind while they interpret, and specifically how interpretation works at the United Nations.

4. How do you think, from psychological point of view, what is the phycological portrait of any interpreter? What character a good interpreter shall have, how shall behave himself/herself?

Interpreters must not care about gaining attention for themselves. Rather, their work is about acting, as much as possible, as a neutral conduit for one person to communicate with another. They gain very deep reward from the intellectual challenge of the work itself, and are highly regarded in international diplomacy and international business.

5. How do you think, what shall interpreters do not to mix their private life with work and with stressful situations they often have at work?

I don't really know how to answer this question. For interpreters to perform their job well, they, like everyone else, must focus on the work at hand and leave other stresses and problems they may be experiencing outside the workplace behind so they can concentrate.

6. The idea of invisibles is not new, but actually you are the first talking about it so much and in such details. What are your advices to people, that have “invisible” professions, that are not appreciated by the society or if society does not notice them?

You need to find value in the work itself. If you are challenged by your work, and paid fairly, the people I profile in my book as well as much research shows that you will be far more fulfilled than others who seek their reward by gaining the praise or attention of others. 


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