Later he said, “I apologise, Mr. Rennie, I don’t believe that.  I believe this church will be knocked down, but first the mural must be made perfect.  When a thing is perfect it is eternal.  It can be destroyed afterward, or slowly decay, but its perfection is safe in the past, which is the only inevitable part of the universe.  No government, no force, no God can make what has been not have been.  The past is eternal and every day our abortions fall into it: love affairs we bungled, homes  we damaged, children we couldn’t be kind to.  Let you and I, Mr. Rennie, make eternity a present of a complete, perfect, harmonious, utterly harmless thing; something whose every part is the result of intelligent, loving care; something which isn’t a destructive weapon and can’t be sold at a profit by public-spirited businessmen.  And remember, Mr. Rennie, we’re doing nothing novel.  For five or six thousand years Egyptian and Etruscan and Chinese artists put their best work into graves which were never opened.  The old Greeks and Romans had as many Leonardos, Rembrandts and Cézannes as we have, all painting on plaster that’s turned to powder now, apart from a few square yards in Pompeii.  I’m not sorry.  There are too many colour photographs of the Great Art of the Past.  If it didn’t have colour reproduction, the mid-twentieth century would have no reason to think itself artistic at all . . . and if it didn’t have you and me, Mr. Rennie.”

“Stop condescending to me,” said a voice.

Thaw started and dropped his brush, for it was three o’clock in the morning.  He laughed shakily and climbed down the ladder, saying, “I will never condescend to you again, Mr. Rennie, if you promise not to speak to me when you aren’t here.  Excuse me, I’m a little tired.”

Alasdair Gray, Lanark: A Life in Four Books

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