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My experiment, described below, seems to prove that this is impossible. When TeX finds the cluster of characters abc (where abc represents any three characters) it looks whether a kerning pair or ligature for ab is defined and, in this case it inserts the kern or makes the ligature. If the ligaturing mechanism has substituted d to ab, a kern or ligature ...


As David points out in the OP's comments, making the brackets active will break the use of many things, such as optional arguments. So this solution splits the difference. It creates the macros \shftON and \shftOFF to turn the vertically shifted brackets on and off by making them \active or not. When \shftON is invoked, you can get the brackets you want ...


It seems like the kerntest package might be what you are looking for: This class makes it easy to gen­er­ate ta­bles that show many dif­fer­ent kern­ing pairs of an ar­bi­trary font, us­able by LaTeX. It shows the kern­ing val­ues that are used in the font by de­fault.

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