Stability of incoherence

In the arena of our incoherence

our tropes intrude into a cancer tropic,

metastasizing into disappearance

like images that flash while stroboscopic.


The instability of consciousness

gives all our moments an electric shock,

which we’re obliged to edit till we guess

the meaning that subconsciousness won’t block.


Sometimes the incoherence is the message,

reminding us that since we’re human we

need to depend on doubt and inspired guessage,

our divination not based on divinity.


Gershon Hepner 12/27/2020


The story of Joseph is replete with narrative contradictions. Source criticism has long dominated the quest for textual coherence. But how are we to make sense of the integrated text?…..

I recalled this poem on 12/25/20 after reading an article in by Ed Greenstein (“Finding Meaning in Incoherence: The Joseph Story Beyond Source Criticism?”) in which he suggests that biblical readers should not try to reduce the  incoherence of biblical narrative by eliminating one of the two texts that causes the incoherence.  He writes:

Such an approach suggests that ancient Near Eastern texts must be consistent; this is a questionable assumption. More seriously, it fails to read the text. Instead of seeking to read the incoherent text, whether composite or not, it divides and conquers— fragmenting the text into what the contemporary critic, applying modern notions of sense and logic, regards as its sensible components.

Exploring this idea further I recalled this review:

Elizabeth Lowry (“Mental Mazes,” TLS, February 24, 2006) reviews Robert Alter’s Imagined Cities: Urban experience and the language of the novel, Yale University Press):

Shifting seamlessly between a painterly wholeness of vision and a subjective, splintered, hallucinatory view of the city Flaubert manages to give us a sense of Paris as “a compelling arena of incoherence”, and in this, Alter reasons persuasively, his novel marks “a moment of transition” between the unities of realist fiction and the fragmentations of modernism. Flaubert’s representation of urban life as a dazzling “mass of colors” and rapidly shuttering images is stroboscopic. His rendering of perception as a series of jagged sensory shocks brilliantly suggests the fundamental instability of consciousness itself, and anticipates the later techniques of that most modern of art forms, the cinema. Woolf and Joyce were to push this experiment even further: one is reminded of Woolf’s exhortation of 1922 to her generation of writers to renounce “the beauty that comes from completeness” and her belief that “nothing is going to be achieved by us. Fragments…but no more.”

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at
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