## Introduction

Many conversations about embodiment and re-embodiment fit within postphenomenological narratives. The materiality and movement of the body within the physical realm expanded towards its disintegration as virtual and robotic re-embodiments are repurposed and reshaped towards what Kirk M. Besmer (2015) mentions as extension thesis. This term is defined as an extension of embodiment as technologies develop ‘human perception, agency and cognition’. Yet, Besmer’s (2015) understanding of extension thesis is quite limiting as he concludes at the end of his essay how one’s canal body cannot be shifted from one’s embodied situation. (Besmer 2015: 55–69). But what about natures of complete disembodiment? The question that is presented revolves around the nature of disembodiment within the internet space and its socio-economic implication.

Besmer (2015) fails to acknowledge cases of actual distancing from one’s physiological body while many efforts of creation of disembodiment are extremely vital in this shift of the internet presentation of the self and the space that is used within it. Technology has allowed to form a social remixing of avatars and different agencies. This allows to re-imagine the self that is presented online which still fits within the domain of re-embodiment. And some avatars have no relation to any physical body. Their presence is becoming more popular within microcelebrities and the fetishizing of ‘influencers’ for the purpose of an attention and experience economy.1 As an example, Lil Miquela (@lilmiquela) was born in 2016 on Instagram, an avatar fabricated by Trevor McFedries and Sara DeCou. Her success and popularity give insights towards technocultural obsessions of manipulation of body images and it refigures notions of material ownerships through immateriality for capital motives.

In order to comprehend those implications, a case study is made through Lil Miquela’s success and her purpose of existence will be related to Donna J. Haraway’s (1991) famous essay ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’. In addition, Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s (1974) investigation of the body in ‘Phenomenology of perception’ needs to be identified, to allow a juxtaposition of different shapes and forms of embodiment. This theoretical exploration will result in grasping how human beings exist within an internet framework outside of the embodied self. In addition, it will give a small glimpse towards the future of marginalised performance acts that relate to cyborg avatars whose space is solemnly online and how they relate to capitalism.

## Embodiment, Re-embodiment and Disembodiment

To understand the online space and cyborg bodies, it is important to distinguish and interpret the difference between embodiment, re-embodiment and disembodiment. All cases revolve around the sense of presence and the interlink of the body within the ‘here’ and ‘there’ depending on its environment — either be it a physical or virtual environment — as well as its connection with technology (Besmer 2015: 55–71).

## Embodiment: Body Image and Body Schema

Traditional phenomenological definition of embodiment is purely physiological. The sense of presence is connected to the material body and its organism. It is often referred to kinaesthesia, which defines one’s own perception of the self and awareness is in contact with one’s own body in space and its movement. It can be translated into two terms, the body image and the body schema. The body image refers to one’s awareness and self-perception as an embodied creature. It consists of ‘a complex set of intentional states of dispositions — perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes — in which the intentional object is one’s own body’ (Gallagher 2005: 25). This perception is shaped through the lifespan of the body’s ‘user’.

While body schema relates more towards the motor and cognitive skills of the body. Merleau-Ponty (1974) did not simply define ‘body schema’ as the automation of our bodies through its movement and its kinesthetic impressions that was learnt and developed from early age into adulthood. He describes body schema as a ‘spatiality of position and spatiality of situation’ (Merleau-Ponty 1974: 100). He positioned the body and the flesh within Gestalt psychology’s sense of the world. The body is situational and not merely spatial and there is a dynamic nature that comes with it (Merleau-Ponty 1974: 102). Liam Jarvis (2019) emphasises on this position by his discussion on body-ownership and its ‘localization’, he gives out many examples from medical contexts as well as VR experiences where spatiality becomes concerned with an ‘attribution of self-identity to a body’. The ‘localization’ or ‘mislocalization’ of the body in relation to its spatial dimension provides immersive embodiment that are outside its biological borders and more towards a ‘virtual proxy’. The immersiveness of the virtual environment, enables ‘affective experiences of a self that hyper-extends beyond the protective layer of the skin to incorporate experiences of otherness’ (Jarvis 2019: 7).

Within this situational spatiality, we conceive that the body does not have a definitive centre but its organism functions through its perception of the space that it inhabits as well as the circumstances that the body is involved in. (Besmer 2015: 64). This recognition allows the space of the ‘here’ and ‘there’ to be more diversified leading to the embodiment to reach a double spacing and situational representation that could be beneficial for cases of re-embodiment.

## Re-Embodiment: Robotic and Virtual Re-embodiment

The multiform of the body and its spatiality is not only phenomenologically driven. Vittorio Gallese (2009), who has studied cognitive neuroscience and phenomenology also urges to look into psychoanalysis. He incites a dialogue between many disciplines. His embodied simulation theory addresses the ‘capacity to share the meaning of actions, intentions, feelings, and emotions with others’ (Gallese 2009: 520). He explains this shared simulation through ‘mirror neurons’ — ‘premotor neurons that fire both when an action is executed and when it is observed being performed by someone else’ (Gallese 2009: 520). — Subjects can experience through action observation, a trigger of action execution that occurs within the motor system resulting in a ‘direct mapping between the visual description of a motor act and its execution’ (Gallese 2009: 520–521). Gallese’s (2009) points out this relationship in the works of Merleau-Ponty (1974) who has also suggested that understanding of gestures does not simply occur through visual spectatorship but through action and intention of the self and of others. The body becomes inhabited through other’s intention and not simply by its own biological mechanism. (Gallese 2009: 526). With Merleau-Ponty (1974) and Vittorio Gallese’s (2009) framing, it can be suggested; the body is inherently re-embodied through action and observation of others. Going back to Kirk M. Besmer’s (2015) ‘Extension Thesis’, the dialogue of re-embodiment that is technology mediated is also considered, as he mentions two forms of technological Re-embodiment. A robotic and virtual one:

• Virtual Re-embodiment blurs the line between the ‘here’ and ‘there’. Games and immersive virtual environments are a perfect example for that. The environment within the virtual world puts the embodied self within two principles. The body is still present within the real world, while it is also existent within the immaterial one. Besmer (2015) justifies how in games, the users move their real bodies in sync with the avatars that they chose. This experience is very natural and adaptable, the players often do not think too much or are aware of their actions and bodily movement, it is merely natural.

• Robotic re-embodiment transpires within tele-robotic systems, tele-surgery and remotely-operated vehicles. In such cases, there needs to be a learning and coping process that leads for the machinery to be part of the embodiment. Similar to Merleau-Ponty’s (1974) example of the blind man’s cane. The situational spatiality leads to an extension of the motor skills as the object becomes a part of the body that enhances and links the blind man’s perception of his surroundings. Thus, the cane loses its role as an independent object and is transformed into a sensitive zone for perception (Merleau-ponty 1974: 144). This extension of the cane or any robotic system is developed with exercise. A body needs time and practice for it to become fully re-embodied within the tools and technologies that serve this re-embodiment.

While both virtual and robotic approaches towards re-embodiment are extremely major in understanding corporal experiences, there are efforts into the integration of complete disembodiment, in which avatars, robots or any systemic organism is away from the bodily function of the users.

## Conclusion

Within the postphenomenological investigations of embodiment, we can clarify that the body cannot be expressed simply by the material world. The cyberspace has much importance to its nature and existence either be it a stage for re-embodiment or disembodiment. Kirk M. Besmer (2015) ‘extension thesis’ and Merleau-Ponty’s (1974) argument allow a certain degree of knowledge in regards of the many characteristics of embodiment. It is no longer illustrated as a vessel of the mind/soul that is constrained within time and space. ‘Here’ and ‘there’ can be opposed or even mixed. The socio-economics of bodies still need to be considered especially within the realms of cyberspaces. Hence, Donna Haraway’s (1991) Cyborg manifesto retraces the conversation towards the politics of race and gender. Throughout these politics, there is an urgency to investigate the norms of technocultures, as we saw throughout the example of Lil Miquela. Enrolment and experimentation with the technologies often results in a utopian reality of body ownership. Yet, they are being navigated and arranged as fictional developments and through an entertainment scenario, which allows for the capitalization of disembodied bodies. We see how the same space — the internet space — that is used for profit, is also being used for creating a community and a conversation for alienated and oppressed groups. Ownership as a term becomes doubly defined: the ownership of the body within a western feminist context; and an ownership that is acquired for liberation and control over the choice of exposing the flesh. This liberation becomes interpreted as a tool for breaking taboos and boundaries of the oppressed bodies of women. However, the second meaning also interprets the ownership of the data of the body that is in the domain of the cyberspace. The images, the url, the avatars become the property of private companies. Existence within the cyberspace automatically means that the re-embodied self is a data that can be capitalized upon.

Taking into account those considerations, how do we create an internet that is free for all, away from any capitalistic endeavour? Is it even possible to create such a space? Now our understanding of the cyberspace is quite limited, making the target of manipulation for profit easier as it is carried out in the form of accessibility, liberty and illusions of a free for all internet.

## Notes

1. In this paper, attention and experience economy refers to economies that are built on the online consumption of information and their experience. Profit made is through a user’s time (attention) and clicks (experience), it is often used as an economic model for social media platforms. [^]
2. Fetishised nationalities refers to sexual desires towards a person or culture belonging to a specific race or ethnic group. (via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racial_fetishism) It differs from nationalities and different cultural backgrounds. However, in this research it refers to a western point of view of the fetish of the ‘other’. [^]
3. Lil Miquela’s biggest investors come from Silicon Valley. [^]
4. The George Floyd protests are an ongoing series of police brutality protests that began in Minneapolis in the United States on May 26, 2020. [^]

## Competing Interests

The author has no competing interests to declare.

## Author Information

Riad Salameh is a Lebanese researcher and art practitioner with a graphic design, art mediation and curatorial background. His work and research focus on the ownership of bodies in cyberspaces. He critically investigates internet capital economies and its interlink to technoculture. His interests relate to the abstraction of friends, acquaintances and the self in their physical and digital parallels. Subjects of irony, humour and intimacy are common in his work.

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