For Water Alone: A Comparative Analysis of Tawfiq Abu Wa'il's Film 'Atash and Muhammad Shukri's Autobiographical Novels Al-Khubz Al-Hafi and Al-Shuttar

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TAWFIQ ABU WA'IL'S FILM 'Atash (Thirst, 2005) consciously draws from both of Muhammad Shukri's autobiographical works, al-Khubz al-hafi (For Bread Alone, 1993) (1) and al-Shuttar (The Shrewd Ones, 1992). Several instances cite or refer to al-Shuttar directly, and other instances indirectly recall themes and motifs from both works. It seems therefore, that it is not by accident that the protagonist is called "Shukri," reminiscent of the author Muhammad Shukri, and that his father is known only as Abu Shukri. The film recalls Muhmmad Shukri's texts time and again, both through the names of father and son and from the fact that al-Shuttar is invariably in the background. From this it is clear that 'Atash was purposely molded as an intertextual, to use Julia Kristeva's term (2) or, since 'Atash is not actually a text, we might say an "intermedial" rejoinder to both of Shukri's texts. (3)

Kristeva maintains that textual meaning is generated by an interrelationship of words in which "each word (text) is an intersection of word (texts) where at least one other word (text) can be read ... Any text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another." (4) She stresses that intertextuality is often misunderstood in "the banal sense of 'study of sources'" when it is actuality a dynamic interaction of such sources, which, together form new meaning(s). In light of this, she suggests instead the term transposition, which,

   ... specifies that the passage from one signifying system to
   another demands a new articulation.... If one grants that
   every signifying practice is a field of transpositions of various
   signifying systems (an intertextuality), one then understands
   that its "place of enunciation" and its denoted "object" are
   never single, complete and identical to themselves, but always
   plural, shattered, capable of being tabulated. (5)

In other words, when one text cites or draws from another, the result is not merely a salad of quotations whose whole is equal to the sum of its parts. Rather, by invoking other texts (as all texts do to one degree or another), new meaning is generated: Both the text itself takes on new meaning in its new context and the context draws meaning from the original text; together, they take on new signification.

In light of this, in order to grasp the message and meanings of director Abu Wa'il's film, one must understand the intertextual relationship between the film and both of Shukri's texts from which it draws. This study argues that 'Atash is more than just a mosaic of Shukrian quotes or references. Abu Wa'il overlays his film "text" with central motifs, images and passages from Shukri's works which both emanate their original meaning(s) and take on new meaning(s) in their fresh context. In addition to comprising a new articulation of Shukri's works, one can also see the film as an interpretation and reworking of themes therein, which asks such questions as: What if the protagonist were female? What if the movement in Shukri's texts were merely symbolic? How would the story change if it took place fifty years later, in a Palestinian, rather than a Moroccan context?

In what follows, I analyze how Abu Wa'il transposes Shukrian themes, motifs and passages on to his film, and how this fusion generates meaning. This study also explores what the film gains by consciously invoking the modern Arabic literary tradition. First I treat both al-Khubz al-hafi and al-Shuttar, situating them within the tradition of modern Arabic autobiographical literature. Then I move on to a discussion of 'Atash as an intertextual response to Shukri's works, examining how Abu Wa'il engages them. I will flesh out specific intertextual allusions as well as themes and motifs which he adopts and adapts.


Al-Khubz al-hafi, written by the renowned Moroccan intellectual and writer, Muhammad Shukri (1935-2003), (6) is the first volume of what he terms a "novelistic autobiography" (sira dhatiyya rwaiyya). …