André Jolles’s Simple Forms (1929), widely regarded as a classic of genre theory, examines a range of folkloric and nonauthorial forms, such as the fairy tale, the riddle, and the joke, as part of an ambitious attempt to reground literary theory in a “morphological” approach to language inspired, ultimately, by Goethean science. This article argues that Jolles’s study should also be recognized as an important early work of media theory. Simple Forms includes a striking number of examples drawn from the mass-market newspapers of Jolles’s day. In turning to mass media, Jolles followed in the footsteps of the art historian Aby Warburg, whose Mnemosyne Atlas (1924–29) similarly juxtaposed mass-media images from newspapers with works of art from earlier historical periods. The article details how Warburg’s morphological method helped Jolles expand the boundaries of literary study to include mass media by providing him with a morphological version of the motif concept that still has generative applications.

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