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In the course of the German reception of Paul Bourget during the 1890s, the meaningof the literary term decadence split into a positive and a pejorative one. This ledcritics to distinguish between its artistic aspects and its scandalous aspects, the latterwith regards to content. Heinrich Mann, who at the time was heavily involved in thedecadence discourse, particularly embraced the latter facet in his novel Schlaraffenland,published in 1900. This article presents the thesis that the literary motif of decadence acts as a kind of cipher for cultural criticism. Its function increases the effect and facilitates the interpretation of Mann’s social satire as a literary cultural criticism.