But critique doesn’t simply liquidate system. At the height of Enlightenment, d’Alembert distinguished, and with good reason, between esprit de système and esprit systématique, and the method employed in the Encyclopédie took this distinction into account. The esprit systématique requires something more than a “connection”—a trivial motif that is if anything more likely to crystallize among unconnected terms; the esprit systématique does something more than satisfy the desire of bureaucrats to stuff everything into its proper category. The form of system is adequate to the world, which, at the level of content, eludes the hegemony of thought; but unity and unanimity are, at the same time, the skewed projection of a pacified, no longer antagonistic condition onto the coordinates of lordly and oppressive thought. The two senses of philosophical system leave one no choice but to transpose the intellectual power that has been released from systems into the open determination of individual moments. Such a procedure wasn’t entirely alien to Hegel’s logic. The micro-analysis of individual categories, which appears at the same time as the objective self-reflection of those categories, should allow each concept to pass into its other, irrespective of some final category clapped on from above. For Hegel, the totality of this movement amounted to the system. Between the concept of system—as something hermetic and arresting—and the concept of dynamism—as something produced out of the subject in an act of pure self-sufficiency, a production that in turn constitutes all philosophical systematicity—reign contradiction and affinity at once. Hegel only managed to balance out the tension between statics and dynamics by constructing a principle of identity—spirit or mind or Geist—understood simultaneously as a being-in-itself and as a pure becoming, thereby reviving the Aristotelian-scholastic actus purus. The absurdity of this construction, which syncopates upon the Archimedean point subjective creation and ontology, nominalism and realism, forestalls any resolution of that tension, even in a manner immanent to the system. At the same time, a philosophical concept of system is head-and-shoulders above all merely scientific systematicity, which demands the ordered, well-organized presentation of thoughts, the careful and thorough laying out of the academic disciplines, without, however, insisting rigorously and from the object’s perspective on the internal unity of its components. The postulates of scientific system may labor under the presupposition that all beings bear an identity with the principle of knowledge, but equally, that postulate of identity, once made to carry a certain weight, as in speculative idealism, reminds one, legitimately, of the affinity objects have for one another, an affinity prohibited by the requirements of scientific order and made to yield to the surrogate affinity of that order’s schemes. Whatever it is that allows objects to commune, without their having to be the mere atoms that classificatory logic, scissors in hand, would have them be—this is the trace of the determinate qualities of objects in themselves, whose existence Kant denied and which Hegel, contra Kant, meant to restore by passing through the subject and out its other side. To comprehend the very thing, not to adapt it to one’s understanding, not to offer it up to some system of reference—this is nothing more than to become aware of an individual moment as its hangs together immanently, as nexus or combination, with other individual moments. One can find anti-subjectivism of this kind stirring even under the crackling shell of absolute idealism, in its tendency to open up any new set of things by referring them back to how they came to be. The conception of system reminds one, in distorted form, of the coherence of the non-identical—precisely that which deductive systems infringe upon. Critique of system and anti-systematic thinking remain on the surface as long as they fail to release the power of coherence, the power that idealist systems have signed over to the transcendental subject.
ADORNO, NEGATIVE DIALEKTIK (1966), pp. 35-36