There were 150 Eliot fans present. About 100 members of the TS Eliot society, and 50 students of the TS Eliot Summer School. altariel and I were amused at how like any other fandom it is, and how unselfconsciously they displayed the enthusiasm, and delight in shared reference, that you see in other fandoms. For example the organiser telling everyone to take a seat for the next guest said 'Hurry Up Please It's Time' (which is a quote from The Wasteland) and everyone guffawed good-naturedly. Just as if he'd given some quote from Captain Kirk. It was very nice to be among poetry fans.
Eliot fans are generally grey haired upper middle class Anglicans, who are rather more eccentric than they probably realise. Like SF fans many of them may be slightly too gentle for this world.
The most famous guest was the poet Simon Armitage; although he was the most successful and famous person in the room he was really quite shy. His reading of Little Gidding itself was astonishing. I felt I was floating a foot or two above my chair. In the panel discussion which followed he was very quiet, and the three Eliot academics sounded forth with great confidence.
The concluding lecture was from Daniel Albright, professor of Literature at Harvard, who spoke about Non-Euclidean aspects of the Four Quartets. Albright was a mercurial and playful speaker. My private feeling is that by using the term non-Euclidean he was making a conscious reference to Lovecraft, and the problem of using words to gesture towards the ineffable, which we discussed the previous weekend at the SFF class. I wish I had been confident enough to accost him and ask him about this.
My feeling is that Eliot's personal philosophy, and even his faith, were very problematic to him. altariel compared this to Milton, whose overt arguments are undermined by division of mind which underlies them. I think many Eliot fans appear to align themselves to his overt philosophy, and the weekend dwelled more on that, than on doubts, divided thought, reservations. But I think that is natural where a fandom forms.
It was a pleasure to be among fans of this titanic figure. It gave me so much to think about. Will Definitely Go Again.